Disturbing the Peace

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Disturbing the Peace Violation of California Penal Code 415

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Disturbing the peace is a violation of California Penal Code Section 415.  Disturbing the peace is treated as a minor criminal offense charged when a defendant disrupts public peace by making excessive noise, especially in a residential area. The range of disruption can include the operation of any tool, equipment, vehicle, electronic device (including games, videos, radios) or noise produced by their own voice or other personal action.

Local municipal laws vary. There can be time requirements, acceptable noise levels, zoning laws, permitting, and so forth that can affect the outcome of these types of charges. Usually, a charge of “disturbing the peace” originates from a private individual complaint. Sometimes, the remedy is a private nuisance claim in which injunctive relief and/or damages may be recovered in civil court (not criminal). When the complaint of disturbing the peace becomes criminal, it is usually:

  1. The result of a fight (or challenge to fight) in a public place; and/or
  2. The result of disturbing others with loud or malicious noise (e.g., playing music too loud); and/or
  3. The result of offensive words used in public.

Details of the Charge and Defense

Details of the charge (or charges) are important for building an adequate defense. I have outlined the three usual conditions for disturbing the peace as a violation of CA Penal Code 415 and possible defenses:

Fighting in Public. If charged, you are suspected of willfully fighting or challenging someone to fight in a public place. The keyword is “willfully” – that you deliberately or purposefully behaved in an unlawful way. However, you cannot  be charged if you were defending yourself. These are the general guidelines for what constitutes as self-defense:

  • You reasonably believed that someone was going to injure you.
  • You reasonably believed that force was the only way you could to protect yourself.
  • You reasonably used just enough force to protect yourself.

Disturbing others with loud or malicious noise.  The best example is a defendant who was hosting party or other gathering and a neighbor complains that the noise level was unreasonably loud.  There are two guidelines that must be met for this charge to result in a conviction:

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

Note the terms “willfully” and “maliciously” .  They pose the biggest problem for prosecutors in many criminal cases. As the state defines these words strictly, the prosecutor must prove that you were willful and malicious in producing the noise; that the noise was so bad that it posed a danger of violence or that the noise itself was unlawful.

Use of offensive words in public. The offensive words 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. Generally speaking, casual use of offensive words (vulgar or profane words)  should not draw any charge.

Consequences of the Charge

As always, the details of the charge are important. If you are charged with disturbing the peace, the critical issue in the case is whether the District Attorney files the charge as an infraction or misdemeanor. An infraction will result in a simple fine of up to $250. A misdemeanor charge could result in up to 90 days in county jail, up to $400 in fines, or both.

If it is my assessment that your misdemeanor charge will result in a conviction, I can negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf and get the charge reduced to an infraction. That’s why it is absolutely vital that you get legal representation as soon as possible. If you are charged with a disturbing the peace offense, please contact The Law Offices of Stull & Stull so we can discuss your best defense. Please contact us today and remember the initial consolation is free.

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