When You're "Disturbing the Peace" in California

Updated: Apr 21

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