California Disturbing the Peace Law

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Apr 21, 2024 | California Law
California Disturbing the Peace Law

Some states have a crime called disorderly conduct. California also has criminalized disorderly conduct, but here this crime is better known as “disturbing the peace.” Disturbing the peace is a misdemeanor crime. Legally, it is not as serious as a felony charge. However, any time you face jail time or a conviction on your record, it is extremely serious.

Being convicted of disturbing the peace can lead to serious consequences, including jail time, fines, and a criminal record. A conviction can also come with serious collateral consequences beyond jail time and fines. It can affect your ability to obtain employment and housing, depending on the charge.

Employers and landlords who conduct background checks on you may see the charge and treat you unfavorably.

This blog post will explore the details of California’s disturbing-the-peace law, including what constitutes a violation, the potential penalties, and what to do if you are accused of this crime.

What is Disturbing the Peace in California?

In California, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Disorderly conduct is a broad term that encompasses a variety of offenses, including disturbing the peace. California does not have a specific law titled “disorderly conduct.” Instead, various offenses that fall under the umbrella of disorderly conduct are covered by different sections of the California Penal Code.

In California, the main statute criminalizing disturbing the peace is California Penal Code Section 415. This statute criminalizes the following behaviors:

  • Fighting in public or trying to start a fight in public
  • Maliciously or willfully disturbing others with loud and unreasonable noise
  • Using offensive words in public that are likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction

Disturbing the Peace Charges in the Los Angeles Area

Disturbing the peace is a catch-all crime that has the potential to be applied to many people each day. However, the statistics show it is not charged frequently.

For instance, in a recent report, the Los Angeles County Sheriff said the department arrested 2,413 people for driving under the influence and 2,660 people for aggravated assault. That same year, they only arrested 402 people for drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

There are almost certainly more instances of the peace being disturbed than there are aggravated assaults on a daily basis. However, law enforcement does not make arrests for disturbing the peace very often.

To be sure, the police in Los Angeles are too busy to deal with all of these cases, so they may issue warnings or citations instead of making an arrest.

Another common type of disturbing the peace is public intoxication, a violation of California Penal Code Section 647(f). Public intoxication applies to a person who is unable to care for themselves in public due to intoxication.

What are the Penalties for Disturbing the Peace in California?

Whether you are charged with disturbing the peace in violation of Section 415 or public Intoxication in violation of Section 647(f), you are facing a misdemeanor charge. Disturbing the peace is punishable by up to 90 days in the county jail and a $400 fine.

Public intoxication is also classified as a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanors are punishable by no more than one year in the county jail. In practice, you would not see a sentence anywhere near that severe for merely being intoxicated in public.

This crime is more likely to have a few days in jail and a fine than a lengthy jail stay. Of course, every case is unique, and penalties vary greatly depending on your situation.

Long-Term Consequences of a Disturbing the Peace Conviction

While disturbing the peace may seem like a minor offense, a conviction can have lasting consequences that extend far beyond the initial penalties of jail time and fines. A criminal record can follow you for years, impacting various aspects of your life.

A disturbing the peace conviction may raise red flags for employers, who may view it as an indication of poor judgment or a lack of professionalism. This can limit your job prospects and make it challenging to advance in your career, particularly in fields that require a high level of trust or involve working with the public.

Some professions, such as teaching, law, medicine, and finance, require professional licenses. A conviction may disqualify you from obtaining or maintaining these licenses, as licensing boards often consider criminal history when evaluating applicants. This can severely limit your career options and prevent you from pursuing your desired profession.

Consequences on Immigration

For non-citizens, a conviction can have serious implications for their immigration status. Depending on the specific circumstances of the case, a conviction may lead to deportation, denial of re-entry into the United States, or ineligibility for citizenship. Even if the conviction itself does not trigger immigration consequences, it may still be considered a negative factor in immigration proceedings and could influence the outcome of applications for visas, green cards, or other immigration benefits.

Defenses Against Disturbing the Peace Charges

If you have been charged with disturbing the peace in California, there are several defenses that an experienced criminal defense attorney can use to fight the charges. Some of the most common defenses include:

Exercising your First Amendment rights (freedom of speech): The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects your right to free speech. If your alleged disturbing the peace offense involves speech or expression, your attorney may argue that your actions were constitutionally protected. This defense is particularly relevant if you were engaging in political speech, protests, or other forms of protected expression.

In the context of disturbing the peace, if the defendant’s actions or speech were so inflammatory or provocative that they were likely to incite immediate violence or a serious breach of the peace, the prosecution may argue that the conduct posed a clear and present danger to public safety. This argument could be used to counter a defense based on the First Amendment right to free speech.

However, it is important to note that for speech to be considered a clear and present danger, it must be more than merely offensive or controversial. The danger must be imminent, and the speech must be likely to incite immediate unlawful action.

Lack of intent to disturb others: To be convicted of disturbing the peace, the prosecution must prove that you acted willfully or maliciously to disturb others. If your actions were unintentional or you had no desire to cause a disturbance, your attorney can argue that you lacked the necessary intent to commit the offense. For example, if you were speaking loudly due to a hearing impairment or because of an emergency situation, you may not have intended to disturb others.

Insufficient evidence to prove the offense: The burden of proof in a criminal case lies with the prosecution, who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offense. If there is insufficient evidence to support the charges, your attorney can argue for a dismissal. This may include challenging the credibility of witnesses, pointing out inconsistencies in the evidence, or presenting evidence that contradicts the prosecution’s case.

Police misconduct or violation of your rights during the arrest: If the police violated your constitutional rights during the arrest or investigation, your attorney may file a motion to suppress any evidence obtained as a result of the violation. This could include challenging the legality of a search, arguing that the police lacked probable cause to arrest you, or asserting that the police failed to read you your Miranda rights. If the court finds that your rights were violated, it may lead to a dismissal of the charges or a reduction in penalties.

A skilled criminal defense attorney can evaluate the specific circumstances of your case and develop the most effective defense strategy. By challenging the prosecution’s evidence and asserting your rights, you may be able to achieve a dismissal, acquittal, or reduction in charges.

What Should I Do if I Am Accused of Disturbing the Peace?

If you are facing disturbing the peace charges in California, seeking the guidance and representation of an experienced criminal defense attorney should be your first step. While you may be tempted to handle the case on your own or simply plead guilty to move on, having a skilled lawyer by your side can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case. Here’s why:

Criminal law is complex, and navigating the legal system can be overwhelming, especially if you have no prior experience. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights, explain the charges against you, and guide you through each stage of the legal process. They can ensure that you make informed decisions and that your rights are protected throughout the proceedings.

Your lawyer will investigate the circumstances surrounding your case, gather evidence, and identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s argument. They can help you develop a strong defense strategy tailored to your specific situation and present it effectively in court.

In many cases, a skilled criminal defense attorney can negotiate with prosecutors to secure a plea bargain that reduces the charges or minimizes the penalties you face. They may be able to argue for alternative sentencing options, such as community service, anger management classes, or substance abuse treatment, instead of jail time.

Remember, when you are facing criminal charges, you are not just fighting for your freedom; you are also fighting for your future. Investing in the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney can provide you with the support and advocacy you need to navigate this challenging time and work toward the best possible resolution for your case.

Contact Rodriguez Law Group to Defend a Disturbing the Peace Charge

If you have been accused of disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace you are facing a potential jail sentence. You have important constitutional rights that you may not be aware of. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can be extremely beneficial to you.

The Rodriguez Law Group has successfully defended hundreds of clients from accusations of disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct in the Los Angeles area. They will fight for your rights, fight to prove your innocence and negotiate for a dismissal or reduction in charges. Contact a lawyer today so they can get started fighting for you. It may be the best decision you can make.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.