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When You're "Disturbing the Peace" in California

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Defining "Disturbing The Peace" And What It Means In California Law

Disturbing the peace is prohibited under California Penal Code Section 415. It is charged as a criminal offense when a defendant disturbs public peace by generating excessive noise, particularly in a residential neighborhood. Disturbance can be generated by the operation of any instrument, equipment, vehicle, an electronic device (including games, photos, and radios), or noise made by their own voice or other personal activity. Retaining a Criminal Defense Attorney based in California might help you through the process.

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Noise pollution is a big issue for certain people. In addition to being unpleasant, it can disrupt sleep, induce hearing loss, increase stress, and potentially be linked to heart disease. What would you do if your blood pressure rose in lockstep with the decibel levels?

Different municipalities have different ordinances. The outcome of these charges may be influenced by time limitations, tolerable noise levels, zoning restrictions, permitting, and other considerations. A personal complaint usually leads to a charge of "disturbing the peace." The most common remedy is a private nuisance action, in which injunctive relief and/or damages can be obtained in civil court (not criminal).

You may have disturbed the peace if any of the following apply to you:

  • You were involved in an illegal public fighting or challenged someone to a public fight. The prosecutor must prove that you knowingly engaged in combat with another person and that the fight or challenge occurred in a public area. The prosecution must prove that you intended for the war to happen and that you acted maliciously. If these allegations are proven, you have violated the peace.

  • By generating excessive and unnecessary noise, you purposely and intentionally caused a disturbance to another person. By producing an excessively loud noise, the prosecutor must demonstrate not only that you wanted to do something improper or that you planned to offend or damage someone else, but also that you intended for that noise to disrupt someone else.

    • The noise had to have constituted a danger of immediate hostility or been used to disrupt authorized actions to prove that it caused a disturbance to another person. A judge or jury may find that you acted deliberately and with malice if you refuse to stop generating excessive, needless noise when asked by another person or a law enforcement official.

  • In a public area, you used derogatory phrases that were intrinsically likely to generate an immediate violent response. The prosecutor must establish that you said something that was reasonably likely to provoke violent retaliation from another person and that the other person's violent retaliation was predicted at the time you said it.

    • It doesn't matter what you thought when you made the declaration. However, if you had a reasonable expectation that your remarks would not provoke a violent reaction, you are unlikely to be charged with disturbing the peace.

In Fights in Public

If you're found guilty, you'll be accused of purposefully fighting or daring someone to fight in a public location. "Willfully" is the important word here, implying that you did something illegal on purpose. However, you could not be charged if you were defending yourself. Some general parameters for establishing what constitutes self-defense are as follows:

  • You were concerned that someone might harm you.

  • You were accurate in concluding that the only option to defend oneself was to resort to violence.

  • You merely used the amount of force necessary to defend yourself fairly.

What Should You Do If You Find Yourself in a Fight?

There are things you may do right away after an accident, just like in any other personal injury case, to considerably assist the case. The sooner you get started on it, the better, but first and foremost, make sure you're in good health.

  1. To begin, get medical assistance. This is important not only for your well-being and safety but also for your ability to win the case. If you don't have any medically proven evidence to back up your statements or if you delayed many days to see a doctor, it's far more difficult to persuade a judge or jury of the extent of your injury.

  2. Report the occurrence to the establishment's management. Particular states' dram shop rules compel you to do so within a certain time frame after an injury-causing incident. If you wait too long to report the occurrence, insurance companies and juries are more inclined to doubt your claims.

  3. Obtain the names and contact information of any witnesses who may have information about what occurred during and before the incident.

After an incident in a bar or nightclub, the best course of action is to contact a Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer for particular information about your case.

Who Would You Sue If You Were Injured in a Bar or Nightclub?

In a personal injury case involving harm caused in a bar or nightclub, the individual who injured you will be the first and most obvious probable defendant. Depending on the circumstances, liability can emerge from either malicious tort rules or a negligence basis.

Suing the person who initiated the war, on the other hand, makes little sense in most situations. This is because the incident will be covered by no insurance, and the person who hurt you will not have enough money to pay whatever personal injury punishment you win in court. Instead, you can focus your efforts on pursuing a case against the institution that was responsible for the conflict.

A personal injury lawsuit filed against a bar or nightclub for negligence.

To win a negligence claim against a business, you must prove that:

  • The club or bar failed to meet a legal requirement to keep patrons reasonably safe from certain foreseeable harm

  • That your accident was caused by a blunder or a breach of legal obligations (negligence)

If someone attacks you while inebriated in a bar or on the street, you may have a dram shop case against the place that provided the person alcohol. These rules differ by state but generally require a bar, nightclub, or other establishments that sell alcohol to keep track of customers and not serve drunk consumers.

Second, you should concentrate on the establishment's responsibility to give fair and appropriate protection to its clients. This could be classified as a type of premises responsibility. What is reasonable, however, is determined by the circumstances.

A bar with a reputation for fights and drug use in the restrooms won't need much protection, but one with a reputation for fights and drug use in the restrooms will almost likely need to take rigorous precautions to avoid reasonably foreseeable problems, such as:

  • alcoholic beverages presented in plastic cups

  • enlisting the help of a huge number of bouncers

  • appointing off-duty police to monitor the situation

  • firmly anchoring the tables, seats, and stools to the floor

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The establishment could be in violation of a state or local regulation that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages, such as:

  • underage customers

  • drink promotions and enticements such as "happy hour" and "two-for-one."

The plaintiff's position in a personal injury case may be bolstered if a nightclub or bar's violation of one of these laws culminates in a fight that culminates in an accident.

Loud Noises

The best example is a defendant who was at a party or other event when a neighbor complained that the noise level was too loud. Two conditions must be met for this charge to result in a conviction:

  • You created an obscenely loud noise on purpose and with malice.

  • You purposely made a noise that irritated someone else.

It's worth noting the phrases "willfully" and "maliciously." They are the most difficult problem for prosecutors to resolve in many criminal prosecutions. The prosecution must show that you made the noise on purpose and with malice, that the noise was so loud that it posed a threat of violence, or that the noise was illegal under state law.

Initiatives at the Local Level for Noisy Neighbors

Make sure you're aware of your city's and county's noise regulations. In most cities, there are limitations on when it is acceptable to operate machinery, listen to loud music, or engage in other disruptive activities. Some people can set acceptable decibel levels as well as quiet hours.

It's often a good idea to strike up a discussion with your neighbor, whether in person or over the phone. Dealing with a problem by focusing on the rules rather than one's personal demands is a less confrontational strategy, especially if it's a reoccurring issue rather than a one-time occurrence. Perhaps your neighbor isn't even aware that they're disturbing you, and having this conversation would resolve the problem.

If the discussion does not address the problem, a police alert may be required. If things go awry, police would always stop the problem for the time being with a notice that they got a call. Repeat offenses can also result in citations or even arrests.

Noise pollution is a big issue for certain people. In addition to being unpleasant, it can disrupt sleep, induce hearing loss, increase stress, and potentially be linked to heart disease. What would you do if your blood pressure rose in lockstep with the decibel levels?

Mediation. One of the most prevalent conflict-resolution procedures is mediation, which is a method in which competent lawyers help parties reach an agreement. It is effective around 60% of the time, and the participants are generally satisfied with the procedure. Make sure you find and hire a competent mediator who can organize and manage the logistics of bringing all of your neighbors together to solve their issues. Some cities and counties also offer mediation services, which are administered in partnership with local law schools or firms.

This is especially effective when the owner cannot see an obvious solution to a problem, such as a barking dog. Mediation allows both sides to be heard in an inclusive paradigm of cooperative dispute settlement. This would be preferable to the win-lose aspect of the legal system.

Small Claims Court and Civil Lawsuits. If the noise continues after you've completed the following steps, you can file a claim in small claims court. In response to a noise complaint, a nuisance action will be brought. To bolster their case, as many reports and documentation of noise events as feasible should be gathered. Unfortunately, Criminal Defense Attorneys aren't always allowed to represent clients in small claims lawsuits.

You are, however, allowed to consult a legal counsel outside of it. The involvement of law enforcement is required once again to enforce a judge's order, and it can be tough to navigate. You should retain a reputable Criminal Defense Attorney to assist you.

Using Inappropriate Language

The vulgar statements have to have been shouted in front of others in order to elicit a violent response. To put it another way, if you taunted another person with harsh language, you might be punished for disturbing the peace. Using inappropriate words (vulgar or obscene terms) in a casual manner does not usually result in a penalty.

Some instances of behaviors that could be interpreted as threatening, violent, or disrespectful words or acts include as follows:

  • threats made against unknowing bystanders or public servants

  • an individual who launches missiles at a demonstration or other public gathering but does no harm

  • scuffles, violent occurrences, or threats of violence that take place during a brawl (such as in or in the vicinity of a public house)

  • There are times when a person is targeted by a gang when an assault charge is not warranted

The use of just "insulting" words or actions, or the appearance of just "insulting" writing, signs, or other recognizable representations within the earshot of anyone likely to be harassed, disturbed, or upset, would no longer be a crime under section 5. (1). Section 4A, on the other hand, can be used to penalize more serious, deliberate, and malicious acts of contempt. Prosecutors would have to carefully evaluate whether conduct happening on or after February 1, 2014, constituted the commission of the section 5 charge now that the "insulting" clause has been deleted.

There are a few limitations to the Constitution's provision of freedom of expression, such as the use of threats of violence. Another potential limitation to free speech is the use of offensive terminology, commonly known as "slur words." This includes any expression that has the potential to incite a conflict or violent retribution, resulting in an immediate breach of the peace. In order to incite a conflict, there is no comprehensive list of statements that will be deemed disrespectful. The details of the occurrence, the accused speaker, the person allegedly offended, and the place and manner in which the incident arises will all have to be considered.

Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.

What Does the Constitution Say About My Right to Free Speech?

California courts have concluded that such "slur words," which result in instant hostility, are not required for the communication of ideas and that whatever relevance that such speech may have is outweighed by society's interest in order and morality. As a result, if you employed "slur words," your right to free expression would not protect you from being accused of disturbing the peace.

It is decided whether terms should be categorized as "inflammatory words" or "battle words" on a case-by-case basis. The offense of disrupting the peace may not be prosecuted successfully if the terms are simply vulgar, vulgar, confrontational, or insulting but do not cause an instant violent response.

Inducing Unrest in a School or University

There is a distinct law that applies whenever there is a disturbance of the peace inside or on the premises of any school, community college, or university. This is meant at non-students and non-workers, not at students or employees. A first arrest carries the same penalty as a daily disturbing peace crime, but a second conviction has harsher penalties, including a least of 10 days and a maximum of 6 months in prison. The total fine has been increased to $1,000. If a criminal has been convicted of disturbing the peace at a school twice or more before, the term is doubled to a minimum of 90 days in jail.

  • Disturbing the Peace (California Penal Code 415.5(a)). If you conduct any of the offenses listed in Peal Code 415 PC (unlawful fights, intentional and deliberate disruption, and improper use of language) on school grounds and are not a registered student or employee of that school, you will be prosecuted with a misdemeanor. As a result, you might face a fine of up to $400 and a sentence of up to 90 days in county jail.

  • Disturbing the Peace (California Penal Code 415.5(b)). If you happen to commit any of the acts listed in Peal Code 415 PC on school premises though not an enrolled student or employee of that campus, and you have previously gotten convicted of it or another criminal offense that happened on school premises, you will face significantly severe penalties.

A mandatory minimum of 10 days in county imprisonment and a maximum of 6 months in county imprisonment could be imposed on you. Your sentence will be increased even more if you have been convicted of California Penal Code 415.5 twice or more. You'll be sentenced to at least 90 days in county jail and will have to pay fines.

Remember that the court may receive detailed documents from the Department of Justice that also include details from the records that show past convictions. Regardless of whether the earlier convictions were asserted in the initial case filed against you, this email would be regarded as sufficient proof of those convictions even if you do not confess to them.

Public intoxication, sometimes known as drunk in public, is a common low-level offense. However, many people are unaware that simply being drunk in public does not equal public drunkenness.

If you are drunk, you must choose one of the following options:

  • You end up being a danger to yourself or others.

  • You are preventing people from using public highways, walkways, or other modes of public transportation by impeding or stopping them.

To be arrested for this offense, you would have had to be drunk and in a public location. You could be prosecuted with public intoxication in the following situations:

  • You exit a bar after a few beers and continue walking home through traffic.

  • You've had much to drink and collapse on the sidewalk.

  • You take heroin and pass out on a park seat in a public park.

The state must prove that an accused was either too inebriated to consider his or her own or others' safety, or that a perpetrator obstructed, meddled with, and otherwise impeded other citizens from safely using sidewalks, city roads, or other "public ways" to be convicted of drunk-and-disorderly conduct. Being excessively drunk in public is perfectly legal in California, but fainting on the pavement in a way that hinders other pedestrians may lead to criminal charges.

Disorderly conduct would be a misdemeanor in California, but it is more serious than disturbing the peace. A conviction for disorderly conduct carries six-month imprisonment in county jail and a fine – or both. Even if the sentence is only probation, the conviction remains on the offender's criminal history, which workers and professional licensing bodies can view. Anyone charged with disorderly conduct in southern California will need the counsel and representation of a skilled Criminal Defense Attorney.

In numerous aspects, disturbing the peace is a unique type of crime. Unlike murder or armed robbery, which might happen anywhere, disturbing the peace requires certain circumstances to be constituted a crime. This makes it more difficult for the state to achieve a conviction, which is why anyone accused of disturbing the peace in California should fight the accusation because they have a good chance of winning.

Resisting Arrest

It's fairly uncommon for those accused of disturbing the peace or being inebriated in public to also face charges of resisting arrest. The policemen arrive, which always intensifies the situation because emotions are running high and you're irritated or intoxicated.

California's regulations against resisting arrest are, unfortunately, too broad.

Under California Penal Code Section 148(a), you can be charged with resisting arrest if you intentionally prevent, hinder, or halt a law enforcement officer from doing their duties (1). It's not only about avoiding arrest; refusing to provide immediate and thorough help will lead to charges of resisting arrest. You might be charged with resisting arrest if you interacted with an EMT or firefighter who was trying to conduct their duty. Other acts that can result in a resisting arrest prosecution include:

  • Stiffen your arms to prevent a police officer from putting you in handcuffs.

  • Giving incorrect information to a police officer.

  • You were attempting to prevent an EMT from assisting someone you were fighting.

  • Interrupting a police officer who is attempting to interrogate witnesses.

As you can see, California's statute on resisting arrest is extremely broad, and you could be punished even if you are otherwise innocent.

If you are found guilty of resisting arrest, you will be subjected to the following penalties:

  • It's possible that you'll spend a year in county jail

  • Fines

As previously indicated, resisting arrest is frequently charged alongside other crimes. As a result, by bringing this new charge against you, the prosecution may attempt to persuade you to plead guilty to a crime you did not commit. They will decide to drop another charge if you agree to plead guilty to resisting arrest. Prosecutors employ this tactic as well: the more charges they file against you, the more likely they are to prevail.

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Interfering With A Public Meeting

Although the First Amendment ensures a person's right to free speech, there are instances when exercising that freedom interferes with others' constitutional right to congregate. As a result, it is now criminal to disturb a public meeting under California Penal Code Section 403 PC.

The prosecutor must prove the following criteria to convict an accused of disturbing a public meeting:

  • In terms of how a public meeting should be managed, the accused acted in a way that was both subtle and apparent.

  • The defendant knew or should have known that his or her activities were contrary to certain conventions or laws.

  • And the defendant's actions hampered the meeting's progress in a major and unjustified way.

  • An individual is not guilty of a felony unless the defendant's actions seriously hampered the meeting's activity, rather than the message or expressive substance of the conduct.

Interfering With A Religious Service

The United States Constitution's First Amendment protects freedom of expression, which is a highly valued right. However, there are certain situations when it is necessary to limit a person's First Amendment rights, particularly when the speech in question interferes with another's freedom of expression and right to exercise religion. Disturbing a religious meeting is a serious crime under California Penal Code Section 302 PC.

To prosecute somebody for disturbing a religious assembly, the prosecutor must establish the following elements:

  • The accused disrupted or disturbed a religious worship gathering in a tax-exempt place of worship.

  • The defendant acted in this manner by using vulgar language, insulting or obscene acts, or making excessive noise.

  • The accused did so with the goal of causing a religious gathering to be disrupted or disturbed.

  • The disturbance can happen inside the religious meeting's real site or nearby enough to disturb the religious congregation.

Disturbance of the Peace Efforts

Although a small offense conviction may not seem life-altering, it will leave you with a criminal history. Simply having a criminal record would have a long-term impact on your life. Finding a quality job, finding safe housing, and keeping driving licenses will be difficult. You can avoid these fines and punishments by putting up a strong legal defense. The following defenses for disturbing the peace may be useful in your case:

  • The actions were not planned.

  • You did not act in a malevolent manner.

  • Absence of a willingness to cause harm

  • The crime was not committed in broad daylight.

  • You did it to protect yourself

  • It was a case of mistaken identity

  • It's a false accusation.

Possible defenses to a charge of disturbing the peace will be determined by the nature of the incident and the circumstances surrounding the arrest. If you're accused of fighting, you can claim that there was no war and that the participants were just having fun or that it was in self-defense.

If there was no attempt to intentionally irritate another person or if the offender was ignorant that another person was present, noise infractions may be justified. Claims that the expression was protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution might be used to defend against accusations of employing combative language. A skilled Criminal Law Attorney can examine the circumstances of a defendant's case and consider defense strategies.

There is a substantial chance of being investigated for "disturbing the peace" when engaging in legally permitted activities. Suppose you were detained for disturbing the peace whilst partaking in a parade or demonstration or making a political or social statement. In that case, you should not have to plead guilty and have a criminal record. For your rights and freedom of expression, you must fight. Make contact with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer who has handled cases similar to yours.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney in California is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to a Criminal Defense Attorney best fit to handle their case. You can contact us through our 24/7 live chat or complete our submission form for a free initial consultation.


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