Disturbing the Peace Law in California

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 Is Disturbing the Peace a Crime in California?

Yes, in California, disturbing the peace is considered a crime. It is categorized under California Penal Code 415 and can include actions such as fighting in public, using offensive words likely to provoke violence, or even causing loud noises in public spaces or residential areas. The offense can be charged as either a misdemeanor or an infraction, depending on the severity of the conduct and the discretion of the prosecuting authority.

Is “Disturbing the Peace” the Same as Disorderly Conduct?

While both terms may sound similar and are often used interchangeably, “disturbing the peace” and “disorderly conduct” are not always identical in legal contexts. In California, disorderly conduct encompasses a broader range of activities, including behaviors such as prostitution, loitering, and public intoxication. While disturbing the peace is a specific subset of disorderly conduct, the latter casts a wider net over various forms of public nuisances or potential threats to public safety.

To illustrate the distinction between the two charges, consider the following example:

Imagine a scenario where two people, Alex and Jordan, are at a popular public park in California. Alex starts playing music on a portable speaker at a volume level so high that it disrupts a nearby family picnic and a meditation group. This action could lead Alex to be charged with “disturbing the peace” because of the loud noise, causing a disruption to the park’s tranquility.

Meanwhile, Jordan, after consuming a significant amount of alcohol, begins to loiter around the park’s entrance, shouting at newcomers and making lewd comments. This behavior could lead to a “disorderly conduct” charge for Jordan, as his actions involve public intoxication and loitering with disruptive behavior.

While Alex’s actions are more about the noise disturbance, Jordan’s involve a combination of behaviors that go beyond merely causing a public disturbance through noise. This example showcases how “disturbing the peace” is more narrowly focused, while “disorderly conduct” can cover a wider range of public disturbances and potential threats to public safety.

What Is the Punishment for Disturbing the Peace in California? Will It Result in a Criminal Record?

In California, the punishment for disturbing the peace varies based on whether the offense is treated as a misdemeanor or an infraction. If charged as a misdemeanor, the offender could face up to 90 days in county jail and/or a fine. When treated as an infraction, the penalties are generally less severe and might only involve a fine.

Regardless of its classification, a conviction will typically result in a criminal record. The exact implications of such a record can vary based on the details of the incident and any prior criminal history.

What Else Should I Know About Disturbing the Peace in California?

Disturbing the peace in California is a relatively broad statute, which means that a wide range of behaviors could potentially fall under its purview. Anything from shouting loudly in a residential area in the middle of the night to playing excessively loud music can be deemed as causing a disturbance of the peace.

Understand that while some actions might seem harmless or insignificant, they can lead to charges if they upset the tranquility of a given area or the people therein.

Is There a Defense I Can Use if I Didn’t Mean to Disturb the Peace?

Absolutely. Intent and context are crucial when evaluating a charge of disturbing the peace. If the act was accidental or if there was no intent to cause a disruption, it might serve as a viable defense. For instance, if you accidentally played music loudly, not realizing the volume level, and promptly turned it down upon being informed, this could be used to argue against intent.

Here are other potential defenses that can be used in such cases:

  • Freedom of Speech: Sometimes, what might seem like “disturbing the peace” can be protected under the First Amendment as freedom of speech. For example, consider that you were at a peaceful protest or rally and were chanting along with others. In that case, this could be viewed as exercising your constitutional rights rather than intentionally disturbing the peace.
  • No Objective Disturbance: A defense can be made if it’s demonstrated that no objective disturbance took place. For instance, if you were accused of shouting loudly, but no one else around confirmed or felt that your voice was loud or disruptive, it might counter the charge.
  • Misidentification: Mistaken identity is a common defense in many criminal charges. In scenarios where multiple individuals are involved, or if the incident took place in a crowded area, you might argue that you were wrongly identified as the person causing the disturbance.
  • Reaction to Provocation: If you were provoked or taunted into a reaction that led to the charge, this can be used as a defense. For example, if someone insulted or threatened you, leading you to shout or act out, it might be argued that your reaction was natural and not a deliberate attempt to disturb the peace.
  • Consent: In certain situations where the parties involved had given their consent to a particular act or behavior that led to the disturbance, this consent can be presented as a defense. For instance, assume that you were in a mutual verbal exchange with someone who later claimed to be offended by your words. In that case, it might be contended that they were an active participant in the exchange.
  • No Malicious Intent: If you can prove that your actions were without malicious intent and you didn’t aim to provoke, harass, or annoy others, it could serve as a defense. For instance, ringing a doorbell late at night, believing someone was awaiting your arrival, only to discover you had the wrong address.

Remember that every situation is unique. If faced with a charge of disturbing the peace, consulting with a legal professional is crucial to evaluate the specifics of the case and determine the best possible defense.

Is Self-Defense a Defense to Disturbing the Peace Charge in California?

Self-defense can be a valid defense in the face of a disturbing the peace charge, especially if the disturbance arose from a physical altercation. If you were defending yourself or others from imminent harm, and that defense is what caused the perceived disturbance, then this can be argued in court. However, it’s vital that the force used in self-defense is reasonable and proportional to the threat faced.

Consider the following example:

Imagine Lisa, a petite woman, is walking through a busy downtown area in the evening. As she waits at a crosswalk, a much larger individual, Mark, starts aggressively advancing toward her, shouting threats and making violent gestures. Fearing for her safety, Lisa uses a small can of pepper spray she carries in her purse, aiming it at Mark to fend him off. The spray not only affects Mark but also spreads to a nearby outdoor cafe, causing several patrons to cough and experience momentary discomfort.

Though Lisa’s action caused a brief disturbance in a public space, she can argue that she was acting in self-defense. Mark’s threatening approach and the disparity in their physical statures made her genuinely fear for her safety. By using the pepper spray, Lisa employed a level of force she deemed necessary to prevent potential harm.

Even if she’s charged with disturbing the peace for the incident at the cafe, she can use the self-defense argument. This will assert that her primary intent was not to disrupt or harm the patrons but to protect herself from an immediate and clear threat.

Do I Need An Attorney for Disturbing the Peace Charges in California?

Given the potential consequences of a disturbing the peace charge, including a possible criminal record, it is wise to consult with a disturbing the peace lawyer.

An experienced criminal lawyer, especially one who has experience in disturbing the peace cases, can guide you through the legal process, help build a defense, and potentially reduce or dismiss the charges. If you’re facing such a charge, contact a California criminal lawyer through LegalMatch for assistance.


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer