In California, someone can be found guilty of the crime of disturbing the peace if they:
- Fight in public,
- Create an excessively loud noise, or
- Use certain offensive language or fighting words.
Disturbing the peace charges are usually filed as either a misdemeanor or noncriminal infraction. While those might seem benign, any type of criminal conviction can disrupt your personal and professional life.
If you or someone you love has been charged with disturbing the peace, a skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney can help you fight your charges.
What is ‘Disturbing the Peace’?
In order to convict someone of a crime, a prosecutor must show that certain facts in the case were true. These are known as the “elements of the crime.”
As we mentioned above, someone can be found guilty of disturbing the peace for disturbing others with noise, fighting in public or using offensive language. Each of these instances involves different elements of the crime. We’ll cover them below.
Fighting in public – PC 415(1)
Disturbing the peace also applies to fighting in public. Under California Penal Code 415(1) PC, someone can be found guilty of disturbing the peace if they:
- Willfully and unlawfully fought another person in a public place, or
- Challenged another person to fight in a public place.
Disturbing the peace does not apply here if the individual fighting in public was acting in self-defense.
Unreasonable noise – PC 415(2)
Under California Penal Code 415(2) PC, a person can be found guilty of disturbing the peace if the following two elements are true.
- The person willfully and maliciously created a loud and unreasonable noise, and
- The noise disturbed another person
Here, it’s important to clarify a few things. “Maliciously” means that the person acted with the intent to disturb someone or with a disregard for whether their actions would cause another person distress.
Then, in element two above, in order to disturb another person by creating a loud and unreasonable noise, there must be either:
- A clear and present danger of immediate violence, or
- Evidence that the noise was used for the purpose of disrupting lawful activities, rather than communication.
Using offensive language – PC 415(3)
Under California Penal Code 415(3), someone can be found guilty of disturbing the peace if they:
- Willfully and maliciously used offensive words that were likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction from another person, and
- Did so in a public place.
A person uses offensive words likely to provoke a violent reaction, if:
- The words would likely create a violent response in the other person, and
- When they made the statement, there was a clear and present danger that the other person would erupt into violence
As we noted above, in order to be found guilty of disturbing the peace for using offensive language, the person must “willfully and maliciously” use offensive words. If they believed that their words would not have provoked a violent reaction, they are not guilty of disturbing the peace.
Penalties for ‘Disturbing the Peace’
Disturbing the peace is a “wobblette” offense. This means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or noncriminal infraction, depending on the defendant’s criminal history and the facts of the case.
The maximum penalties for disturbing the peace include:
- A 90-day county jail sentence, and/or
- Fines up to $400
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office generally will not prosecute disturbing the peace cases unless if the defendant has a prior conviction in the previous two years, or has no history of substance abuse or mental illness.
Defenses against ‘Disturbing the Peace’ charges
Some common defenses used to fight a disturbing the peace charge include:
- Self-defense – Someone accused of disturbing the peace by fighting can claim that they were only engaging in self-defense.
- False accusation – Someone accused of using offensive language or creating unreasonable noise can claim that they were falsely accused and did not actually engage in this behavior.
- Lack of intent – As noted above, in order to be found guilty of disturbing the peace someone must have acted with “willful and malicious” intent. If this element is missing from the prosecution’s case, the defendant may be acquitted.
- Insufficient evidence – If there is not enough evidence to prove that the defendant committed a crime, they cannot be found guilty of disturbing the peace.
Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Robert M. Helfend can review your case and help you determine which strategy is best suited for your individual situation. Call today for a free consultation – 800-834-6434.