California Disturbing the Peace Law

Overview of California Disturbing the Peace Laws

California law provides three definitions of disturbing the peace that prosecutors may use to pursue criminal charges against defendants. First, a prosecutor may try to show that a defendant engaged in a fight in a public place or challenged another person to a fight in a public place. The prosecutor does not need to prove that the defendant actually intended for the fight to happen -- simply issuing the challenge for a fight may be enough for a criminal charge. California disturbing the peace laws fall under the broader category of disorderly conduct.

Loud and Unreasonable Noise

A prosecutor can also establish disturbing the peace by showing a defendant's "malicious or willful disturbance" of another person through "loud and unreasonable noise." Willfulness refers to the defendant's purpose or intent when making loud noises to disturb another person's peace and quiet. A prosecutor can also charge disturbing the peace based on a disturbance affecting an entire neighborhood.

Offensive Words

In addition, a prosecutor can charge disturbing the peace based on a defendant's use of "offensive words" in a public place where use of those words is "inherently likely" to result in a violent reaction. California state court decisions require a review of the context where the defendant spoke the offensive words. In order to qualify as disturbing the peace, the prosecutor must show a "clear and present danger" that violence would result from the offensive words. While the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, a state can still criminalize speech inciting violence under an exception for "fighting words."

California Disturbing the Peace Laws at a Glance

Below you will find key provisions of California’s disturbing the peace laws.

Statutes

California Penal Code Section 415 et. seq. (Disturbing the Peace)

Penalties

A conviction can result in a fine, a sentence of imprisonment in county jail, or both. A fine cannot exceed $400, while a jail sentence cannot exceed 90 days.

Possible Defenses

  • Self-defense
  • Reasonable belief of necessity to prevent a greater injury than the injury that resulted from the disturbing the peace itself
  • Entrapment
  • Outrageous police conduct

Related Offenses


California Penal Code 302 (Disturbing a religious meeting)

California Penal Code 372 and 373a (Creating a public nuisance)


Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Codes and Legal Research Options

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about California’s disturbing the peace laws, click on the following links:

Accused of Disturbing the Peace? Get a Free Case Review

Is disturbing the peace the crime of the century? Frankly no, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. A criminal conviction can have a lasting impact on your future job prospects and much more. Find out more about disturbing the peace and any possible defenses by getting a free case review today from an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

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