According to California Penal Code Section 415 the crime of disturbing the peace occurs whenever a person unlawfully fights or challenges another one to fight in public; intentionally disturbs another one with loud and unreasonable noise; or, uses offensive words to provoke violence in public.
Fighting or challenging another person to a fight in a public place
The prosecutor must establish the following elements to prove that defendant disturbed the peace by fighting or challenging another person to a fight in a public place:
- Defendant intentionally and unlawfully fought or challenged another person to fight.
- When the fight occurred or the challenge was made defendant and another person were in a public place
- Defendant did not act in self-defense or in the defense of another one.
Intentionally disturbing another person by loud and unreasonable noise
The prosecutor must establish the following elements to prove that defendant disturbed the peace by intentionally disturbing another person by loud and unreasonable noise:
- Defendant intentionally disturbed another person by causing loud and unreasonable noise
- There was a present and clear danger of immediate violence or
- The noise was used for disrupting lawful activities.
Using offensive words to provoke violent reaction in public
The prosecutor must establish the following elements to prove that defendant disturbed the peace by using offensive words to provoke violent reaction in public:
- Defendant used offensive words that were likely to provoke an immediate violence and provoke another person to react violently
- There was a present and clear danger that another person would immediately erupt into violence.
“Offensive words” are determined on a case-by-case basis. Words that are profane, vulgar, abusive, rude or disrespectful by themselves can’t result in a disturbing the peace charge. The words must have been told in a way to provoke a violent response.
Legal Defenses to a Disturbing the Peace Charges
Defendant didn’t act intentionally
In case the defendant did not act maliciously, willfully, with intention of inciting violence and he reasonably believed that his words won’t provoke a violent reaction, he can’t be found guilty of disturbing the peace.
Defendant was acting in self- defense
In terms of unlawful fighting, defendant can’t be found guilty of disturbing the peace in case he was acting is self-defense or in defense of another person.
Defendant was falsely accused and wrongly arrested
There are number of reasons when a defendant can be falsely accused of disturbing the peace. These usually arise in the context of fights with neighbors, domestic disputes or fights with drunk people, who claim that defendant took a swing at them or challenged them to a fight.
Defendant was engaged in a constitutionally protected activity
In case defendant’s speech or conduct was protected by the right to free speech under the First Amendment to the US Constitution he is not guilty of disturbing the peace.
Penalties for violating California Penal Code Section 415
Under PC Section 415 disturbing the peace is a wobbler offense, and can be brought as either an infraction or a misdemeanor, depending on defendant’s criminal history and the case facts.
In case the defendant pleads guilty to an infraction he must pay a fine of up to $250.
Penalties for Misdemeanor Conviction:
- Up to 3 months in a county jail
- A fine of up to $400
Penalties for disturbing the peace on school grounds
In case the defendant disturbed the peace on school ground and was not registered as a student or employee at that school he will get a misdemeanor conviction.
If the defendant had previously committed this offense or any other criminal offenses that took place on school grounds he can face:
- Up to 3 months in a county jail
- A fine of up to $1000.
If you have been arrested for disturbing the peace, a California criminal defense attorney from KAASS LAW can provide you with legal assistance.