A public nuisance is a very broad concept that encompasses a wide variety of minor crimes that threaten the health, morals, safety, comfort, convenience, or welfare of the community. For example, you may have experienced being extremely annoyed by the sound of your neighbor's stereo blasting a pop song at 3 o'clock in the morning. We all know that feeling, but never formally had a term for it. Well, by law, it is called a public nuisance, and an act is considered as such whenever it interferes with the rights of the public, rather than an individual, in particular.
Furthermore, a public nuisance is usually described as a behavior that upsets the norm or standards of decency that affects more than one individual. To discourage individuals from behavior offensively or disruptively, California Penal Code PC 372 has made public nuisance unlawful. Common types of public nuisance include:
- Pollution (includes poor waste management);
- Foul odor;
- Flashing lights;
- Dangerous animals; and
- Drug activity.
Meanwhile, there are specific criteria that a situation must possess to be classified as a public nuisance. If an action substantially interferes with the person's right to enjoy or use his/her property, then that is categorized as a private nuisance, not a public nuisance. Furthermore, a single event often does not warrant a public nuisance case. It is sometimes required that the offense be repeated for it to be qualified as such.
Now, who will be punished under this law? According to PC 372, anyone who:
- Maintains, permits, or allow a public nuisance to exist in his/her property;
- Occupies or lease the property of another individual wherein he/she maintains, permits, or allow a public nuisance to exist in his/her property; and/or
- Willfully failed to perform any legal duty to remove a public nuisance is guilty of public nuisance.
By now, it should be obvious that this case can be applied in various circumstances. Nevertheless, here are the common scenarios or examples of situations wherein a public nuisance was committed or maintained:
- A man lends his house to a group of college kids who are planning to throw a week-long party as a farewell celebration. Loud music, cheering, and yelling can be heard blocks away from the house. As a result, the neighbors dwelling nearby have difficulties sleeping or even relaxing.
- Your new neighbor has been piling all of his trash and garbage outside of his house ever since he moved there. After a week, dogs and rodents have been attracted to the site and your street now smells of rubbish. You, along with a couple of others, filed a complaint against him. The local district attorney gives the man a written notice to properly dispose of his waste. However, the man refuses to comply and ignores the letter.
- A woman living across the street set up some artificial lighting outside of her home. These lights, however, are too bright and glaring. For the next few nights, minor car accidents have been occurring right outside of her property. You learn that the drivers blame the lights for interfering with their vision, which ultimately caused them to knock out trash cans, go outside of the concrete roads, and almost hit pedestrians crossing the street.
With the aforementioned examples in mind, it is easy to spot the similarities between California Penal Code PC 372 and California Penal Code PC 415, otherwise known as “disturbing the peace”. However, these are two completely distinct laws with their own set of penalties and standards.
Punishments for Public Nuisance Under California Penal Code 372
A public nuisance is prosecuted as a misdemeanor in the state of California. The penalties are the same as offenses classified as a misdemeanor under other crimes, and they are as follows:
- Pay a maximum fine of $1,000
- Serve up to 6 months in county jail
Remember that additional penalties may be imposed on top of the consequences listed under this law. For example, the punishments may increase in severity under California Penal Code PC 373a wherein the individual will be prosecuted for each day that a nuisance is allowed to continue after written notice to remove that nuisance has been served.
Criminal Defense Lawyers Can Help You
Handling a public nuisance charge on your own can be quite challenging. However, you can make the process easier by reaching out to the Law Office of Raoul Severo in California. They will help you build a strong legal defense immediately and negotiate for better deals with the prosecutor.
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