PC 415

Disturbing the Peace

You could be convicted of CA Penal Code 4151, Disturbing the Peace if you’re caught doing any of the following:

  1.  Unlawfully fighting or challenging someone to a fight in a public place
  2.  Disturbing others with loud or malicious noise
  3.  Using offensive words in a public place

Disturbing the peace can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction.  If the incident is cited as an infraction you face a fine up to $250 without any jail time.  However, if the prosecutor charges you with a misdemeanor you can face:

  • Up to ninety (90) days in county jail
  • Up to $400 in fines
  • Jail time and a fine

The first crime encompassed in CA Penal Code 415 is that you willfully and unlawfully fought or challenged someone to a fight in a public place.  Willfully is defined by the state as deliberately, or, on purpose.  It’s important to note that if you were defending yourself then you can’t be charged with CA Penal Code 415, the state has a self-defense law that serves as a legal defense for anyone who reasonably believes that another person is going to hurt them.

However, it’s important to note that there are limitations and guidelines as to what constitutes self-defense:

  • You reasonably believed that another person was going to injure you
  • You reasonably believed that force was the only way to protect yourself
  • You only used enough force to protect yourself

The second crime covered by CA Penal Code 415 is that you were disturbing others with loud or malicious noise.  This typically pertains to defendants who were having a large party or gathering and the noise level was unreasonably loud.  There are two elements of the crime that must be satisfied for this conviction:

  1. You willfully and maliciously generated unreasonably loud noise
  2.  You disturbed another person with the noise

The terms willfully and maliciously pose a problem for prosecutors because the state defines these words strictly.  In legal terms, the noise has to present a danger of violence, or, the noise must be used for disrupting lawful activities.

The third and final crime encompassed under CA Penal Code 415 is if you used offensive words is public.   The offensivewords must have been spoken in public and must be used to provoke a violent reaction.  In other words, if you were taunting another person while using offensive words you could be cited for disturbing the peace.

Prosecuting CA Penal Code 415

It can be difficult to prosecute an unlawful fighting conviction because there has to be proof that you weren’t acting in self-defense.  The prosecutor must prove that you weren’t protecting yourself or another person, but were merely fighting to fight.

It can also be difficult for a prosecutor to convict you for a noise violation because of the strictly defined words used in the law’s phrasing and the lack of a victim.  To be convicted or cited for CA Penal Code 415 there has to be a victim, or someone who is affected by the noise.  In other words, you can’t be arrested for disturbing the peace if there hasn’t been a complaint about the noise level.  The law clearly states the the noise must disturb another person.

However, if a police officer asks you turn down the source of the noise and you refuse then you can be convicted.  Because at that point you are acting willfully and maliciously.

It’s difficult to prosecute someone for using offensive language in public because of the First Amendment.  The First Amendment grants citizens the right to freedom of speech.  The aim of CA Penal Code 415 is not to convict people for using vulgar or disrespectful words, but it does aim to convict people who use words to create violence.  In other words, the law aims to punish people who use fighting words.  A prosecutor must prove that a defendant was not expressing his or her ideals, but instead was trying to start a physical altercation.

Defending CA Penal Code 415

A skilled criminal defense attorney will know several approaches for defending you against a disturbing the peace violation.  First and foremost, a criminal defense attorney will prove that you weren’t acting willfully, maliciously, or trying to create violence.  If your attorney can prove any of these elements then a conviction should not take place because those actions are the necessary component’s of a conviction.

Secondly, an attorney will try and prove that you were the victim of a wrongful arrest.  If you were placed under arrest for disturbing the peace when in actuality you were doing nothing wrong then the case should be dismissed.  Your criminal defense attorney will prove that the police officer did not have the right to place you under arrest by reviewing the details of the case and show these findings to the court.

Finally, you attorney can show that your actions were protected by the First Amendment.  If you were peacefully exercising your First Amendment rights then you shouldn’t be charged for CA Penal Code 415.



1 415. Any of the following persons shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than 90 days, a fine of not more than four hundred dollars ($400), or both such imprisonment and fine:

(1) Any person who unlawfully fights in a public place or challenges another person in a public place to fight.

(2) Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.

(3) Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.

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