When out in public, behaving like a decent human being is something that is expected of everyone. Respecting other people's personal space, minding our own business, and showing good manners are just a few simple things that help preserve peace and order within a community. Unfortunately, even with how little effort these actions demand, some people still fail to conduct themselves well.
In this case, California Penal Code PC 415 may be enforced to put unruly individuals into place. The law states that it is unlawful to do any of the following:
- Participate in physical fights or challenge someone to engage in a physical fight in a public place;
- Disturb another individual with malicious intent by making loud and unreasonable noise; and
- Say highly offensive words which would likely stir negative and violent reactions from the public.
Take note that all of these elements must transpire within a public place. Other than that, there are various conditions that must be met in order for the prosecutor to charge someone guilty of offending any of the aforementioned statutes. For instance, the first statement must have the following elements:
- A fight ensued between two people or one person challenged another into a fight;
- The fight was unlawful; and
- This happened in a public place.
On the other hand, the second statement must have the following elements:
- The act was done wilfully and maliciously or with the intent to do something wrongful and/or to annoy or injure someone else;
- The noise disturbed another person in a way that it caused danger of immediate violence or disruption of lawful activities.
Finally, the prosecutor must prove the following to be true in order to convict someone guilty of the third statement:
- The person used offensive words that are likely to provoke immediate violent reaction;
- This happened in a public place.
Unlike the first two subdivisions of PC 415, however, using offensive words does not have to have intent. The person could use an offensive word without intending to cause violent reactions but still violate PC 415.
For further reference, we have made a few relevant examples that would hypothetically disturb the peace:
- A married couple was driving around the parking lot of a beach resort hoping to find an empty space. After a few minutes, they finally managed to spot one and immediately drove towards it. However, a vehicle suddenly approached from behind and took the spot from them. Outraged, they both exited their car and confronted the driver. The man refused to give up the spot and a heated argument ensued. Eventually, the man challenged the couple into a 2v1 fight and proposed that whoever wins will have the empty parking space.
- A group of friends was having a picnic in a public park when three men approached them and asked if they could move somewhere else since they were occupying the space that they use to practice skateboarding. The group refused, saying that they were already using the space. The three men were obviously dissatisfied with their response. But instead of arguing any further, they decided to position themselves near the group and play very loud music while they practiced. The group tried to tell them to lower down their music, but the men just laughed and said that they will continue to annoy them unless they leave their area.
- A white supremacist stationed himself in a subway station to proclaim his beliefs of white supremacy. During this, he continuously mocked and insulted every person of color who walked past him. They ignored him at first, until he used a highly offensive racial slur to one of them.
There are several violations that are related to disturbing the peace, such as:
Penalties for Disturbing the Peace
Anyone who violates California Penal Code PC 415 is guilty of either a misdemeanor or an infraction.
For an infraction, the penalty is:
- A fine not exceeding $250.
For a misdemeanor, the penalties are:
- A county jail sentence of not more than 90 days; and/or
- A fine not exceeding $400.
What you need to challenge a charge under PC 415 is a skilled and aggressive lawyer -- even more so when it comes to having your conviction expunged. Luckily, the Law Offices of Raoul Severo provides exactly that. And, depending on the facts of your case, you and your lawyer may use any of the following legal defenses:
- You did not engage with nor challenge anyone to a fight;
- You had no criminal intent;
- You reasonably believed that your words were not likely to provoke a violent reaction;
- Your behavior is protected by your constitutional rights (i.e., free speech, self-defense); or
- You were falsely accused.
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