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Criminal Defense Lawyer for Disturbing the Peace

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

What Makes Public Disturbance An Illegal Act In California

California Penal Code Section 415 prohibits disturbing the peace. When a defendant disturbs public peace by making unnecessary noise, particularly in a residential area, it is charged as a minor criminal offense. The operation of any instrument, equipment, vehicle, an electronic device (including games, images, and radios), or noise caused by their own voice or other personal activity may all cause disruption.

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Local ordinances differ. Time constraints, reasonable noise levels, zoning rules, permitting, and other factors may all influence the results of these charges. Typically, an accusation of "disturbing the peace" stems from a personal complaint. A private nuisance lawsuit, in which injunctive relief and/or damages may be obtained in civil court, is often the remedy (not criminal).

If any of the following apply to you, you might have disturbed the peace:

  1. You were engaged in an illegal public brawl or challenged someone to fight you in a public place. The prosecutor must show that you willfully fought or challenged another person to battle you and that the fight or challenge took place in a public place. The prosecution must show that you meant for the war to take place and that you behaved with malice. You have broken the peace if these can be proven.

  2. You purposefully and maliciously caused a disturbance to another person by making excessive and unnecessary noise. The prosecutor must show not only that you intended to do something wrong or that you intended to offend or hurt someone else by making an excessively loud noise but also that you intended for that noise to interrupt someone else.

To show that the noise caused a disturbance to another individual, the noise had to have posed a threat of immediate aggression or been used to obstruct lawful activities.

If you refuse to avoid making excessive, unnecessary noise when asked by another person or a law enforcement officer, a judge or jury may decide that you acted knowingly and with malice.

You used offensive terms in a public place that were inherently likely to elicit an immediate violent response

The prosecutor must show that you said something that was fairly likely to cause another person to retaliate violently and that it was predictable that the other person would retaliate violently when you said it.

It makes no difference what your purpose was when you made a comment.

If, on the other hand, you had a reasonable expectation that your comment would not result in an immediate violent response, you are unlikely to be found guilty of disturbing the peace.

Public Fights

If you're convicted, you're accused of fighting or daring someone to fight in a public place on purpose. The keyword here is "willfully," which implies that you acted illegally on purpose. If you were defending yourself, though, you could not be charged. The following are some general guidelines for determining what constitutes self-defense:

  • You had a reasonable fear that someone would hurt you.

  • You correctly concluded that the only way to defend yourself was to use force.

  • You used only enough force to defend yourself in a fair manner.

What Do You Do If You Get Into a Fight?

As in any personal injury situation, there are things you can do right away after the incident to greatly assist the case. The faster you get started, the better, but make sure you're in good health first.

  1. Seek medical help. This is vital not only for your health and safety, but it can also help you win the case. It's much more difficult to persuade a judge or jury of the seriousness of your injury if you don't have any medical evidence to back up your statements or if you waited several days to see a doctor. Learn more about the impact of medical attention on a personal injury case.

  2. Inform the establishment's management of the incident. Dram shop laws in certain states require you to do so within a certain amount of time following an injury-causing incident. Insurance providers and juries are more likely to doubt the validity of the statements if you wait to report the incident.

  3. Get the names and contact details of any witnesses who may know what happened during and before the incident. Find out how witnesses can aid in a personal injury case.

  4. After an accident in a bar or nightclub, the best first move would be to speak with a Personal Injury Attorney for details that is specific to your case.

For Injuries Sustained in a Bar or Nightclub, Who Would You Sue?

The person who hurt you will be the first and most obvious possible defendant in a personal injury case for damage sustained in a bar or nightclub. Liability can arise from malicious tort rules (if the individual hurt you on purpose) or from a negligence theory, depending on the circumstances (if they hurt you accidentally; while they were fighting someone else, for example).

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In most cases, though, suing the person who started the war makes little sense. This is because there will be no insurance coverage for the incident, and the individual who injured you does not have enough money to settle any personal injury penalty you obtain against them in court. Instead, you can concentrate your efforts on bringing a lawsuit against the institution where the war occurred.Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.

Causing others to be disturbed by loud or malicious noise

A defendant who was attending a party or other event and a neighbor complained about the noise level is too loud is the best example. For this charge to result in a conviction, two requirements must be met:

  1. You purposefully and maliciously made an excessively loud noise.

  2. You purposefully made a noise that bothered another person.

The words "willfully" and "maliciously" should be noted. In many criminal trials, they are the most difficult issue for prosecutors to solve. The prosecution must prove that you were deliberate and malicious in making the noise; that the noise was so bad that it posed a threat of violence; or that the noise itself was illegal, as defined by the state.

For certain people, noise pollution is a major problem. It can rob you of sleep, cause hearing loss, increase stress, and even be related to heart disease, in addition to being irritating. What would you do to deal with the condition when the blood pressure rises in tandem with the decibel levels?

Local Initiatives

Make sure you're familiar with the noise laws in your city and county. In most cities, there are restrictions on when it is permissible to run equipment, listen to loud music, or participate in other disruptive activities. Some can specify decibel levels that are appropriate, as well as quiet hours.

Engaging your neighbor in conversation, whether in person or by other means, is often a good idea. Focusing on the rules rather than one's personal needs is a less confrontational approach to dealing with a problem, particularly if it's a recurring issue rather than a one-time occurrence. Maybe your neighbor isn't aware that they're bothering you, and having this talk would solve the issue.

If talking does not solve the problem, a law enforcement alert might be necessary. Repeat offenses can result in citations or even arrests if things get out of control, but if things get out of hand, police will always stop the issue for the time being with a notice that they got a call.

For certain people, noise pollution is a major problem. It can rob you of sleep, cause hearing loss, increase stress, and even be related to heart disease, in addition to being irritating. What would you do to deal with the condition when the blood pressure rises in tandem with the decibel levels? Consult a Criminal Defense Attorney if there are other things you wish to understand.

Local Initiatives

Make sure you're familiar with the noise laws in your city and county. In most cities, there are restrictions on when it is permissible to run equipment, listen to loud music, or participate in other disruptive activities. Some can specify decibel levels that are appropriate, as well as quiet hours.

Engaging your neighbor in conversation, whether in person or by other means, is often a good idea. Focusing on the rules rather than one's personal needs is a less confrontational approach to dealing with a problem, particularly if it's a recurring issue rather than a one-time occurrence. Maybe your neighbor isn't aware that they're bothering you, and having this talk would solve the issue.

If talking does not solve the problem, a law enforcement alert might be necessary. Repeat offenses can result in citations or even arrests if things get out of control, but if things get out of hand, police will always stop the issue for the time being with a notice that they got a call.


Mediation, a mechanism in which Criminal Defense Attorneys promote an agreement between parties, is one of the most common conflict-resolution strategies. Around 60% of the time, it is efficient, and the participants are generally happy with the procedure. Make sure you locate and recruit a professional mediator who can plan and manage the logistics of bringing all neighbors to the table to settle their differences. Mediation services are also available in some cities and counties, which are run in collaboration with local law schools or firms.

This is particularly useful in cases where the owner doesn't see a clear way to solve the problem, such as a barking dog. In an inclusive model of cooperative dispute resolution, mediation enables both sides to be heard. This would be superior to, say, the court system's win-lose nature.

Civil Lawsuits and Small Claims Court

If the noise persists after you've taken the measures above, you can go to a small claims court. A nuisance action will be filed in response to a noise complaint. To support their point, one would want to gather as many reports and documentation of noise incidents as possible. Criminal Defense Attorneys aren't often permitted in small claims cases, unfortunately.

Enforcing a judge's order necessitates the involvement of law enforcement once more. Since a nuisance allegation can be difficult to negotiate, hire a reputable civil litigator to help you get through the maze.

Inappropriate and Offensive Language

The obscene words must have been spoken in public and used to incite a violent response. To put it another way, you might be charged with disrupting the peace if you taunted another individual by using offensive language. In general, using offensive words (vulgar or profane words) casually does not result in a penalty.

The following are some examples of conduct that may be construed as threatening, violent, or disrespectful words or actions:

  • threats made against unwitting bystanders or people performing public service duties

  • an individual participating in a demonstration or other public gathering who throws missiles but causes no harm

  • scuffles, incidents of violence, or threats of violence that occur during a brawl (such as in or in the vicinity of a public house)

  • When a person is targeted by a gang, there are instances that do not warrant a charge of assault.

Conduct that is capable of amounting to intimidating, abusive, or insulting words or actions for the purposes of an offense under section 4 would be more severe than conduct that is capable of amounting to threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior for the purposes of an offense under section 4A or for threatening or abusive behavior under section 5.

  • Section 4 can be prosecuted as a separate racially or religiously aggravated offense under section 31(1)(a) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (as amended by the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001). Prosecutors can consult the CPS Guidance on Prosecuting Racist and Religious Crime, which can be found in the Legal Guidance section.

  • Section 4 is a racially/religiously aggravated offense that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison, a fine, or both if convicted. On summary conviction, the maximum punishment is 6 months in prison or a fine not reaching the statutory maximum, or both.

  • Section 57 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 amended sections 5(1) and 6(4) of the Public Order Act 1986. With effect from February 1 2014, this amendment eliminates the word 'insulting' from the two pages. Section 5(3) defenses to this crime will not change. The "insulting" arm is now excluded from the racially or religiously aggravated form of section 5 Public Order Act offense (i.e., the offense contrary to section 31(1)(c) Crime and Disorder Act 1998) as a result of the amendment.

The amendment aims to strengthen Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights' defense of the right to freedom of speech (ECHR). The use of merely 'insulting words or actions, or the appearance of merely 'insulting' writing, signs, or other identifiable representations within the hearing of anyone likely to be harassed, alarmed, or distressed, would no longer be a criminal offense under section 5. (1). However, more severe, premeditated, and malicious instances of disrespectful conduct can still be punishable under section 4A. The "insulting" limb is also retained in Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986 (fear or provocation of violence).

Since the "insulting" part has been removed, prosecutors would have to carefully consider whether conduct occurring on or after February 1, 2014, constitutes the commission of the section 5 offense.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, although there are a few exceptions, such as the use of threats of violence. The use of offensive terms, also known as "war words," is another potential exception to free speech. This includes an expression that has the potential to cause an immediate breach of the peace by inciting a war or violent retaliation. There is no definitive list of words that will be deemed insulting in order to incite a war. It will have to be decided based on the facts of the event, the alleged speaker, the person allegedly offended, and the location and manner in which the situation occurs. A Criminal Defense Attorney might be able to clarify the case for you.

What Is My Right to Free Speech Under the Constitution?

Disturbing the peace is protected by an exception to the right to free expression known as the "war terms" exception.

The courts in California have ruled that such "battle words," which result in immediate aggression, are not necessary for the expression of ideas and that any importance that such speech might have is outweighed by society's interest in order and morality. As a result, if you used "battle words," your fundamental right to free expression would not shield you from a charge of disturbing the peace.

On a case-by-case basis, it is decided whether or not terms should be classified as "inflammatory words" or "battle words." If the terms are merely lewd, profane, aggressive, or insulting but do not provoke an immediate violent response, the crime of disrupting the peace may not be prosecuted successfully.

Creating a Disturbance in a School or University

If there is a disruption of the peace inside any building or on the grounds of any school, community college, or university, there is a separate law that applies. This is not directed at students or staff but rather at non-students and non-workers. A first conviction carries the same penalty as a daily disturbing peace offense, but a second conviction carries increased penalties, including a minimum of 10 days in prison and a maximum of 6 months. The overall fine has also been raised to $1,000. If a criminal has two or more previous convictions for disturbing the peace at a school, the sentences are increased to include a minimum of 90 days in prison.

You will be charged with a misdemeanor if you commit any of the offenses specified in Peal Code 415 PC (unlawful battles, malicious and willful disruption, and offensive use of words) on school grounds, and you are not a registered student or employee of that school. As a result, you face a maximum fine of $400 and a maximum sentence of 90 days in county prison.

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If you commit any of the offenses specified under Peal Code 415 PC (unlawful battles, malicious and willful disruption, offensive use of words) on school grounds while not a registered student or employee of that school, and you have previously been convicted of this or another criminal offense that occurred on school grounds, you will face substantially harsher penalties.

  • You could face a mandatory minimum of 10 days in county jail and a maximum of 6 months in county jail.

  • A fine.

If you've been convicted of California Penal Code 415.5 twice or more, your sentence will be lengthened even more. You'll have to spend at least 90 days in county prison and pay fines.

Keep in mind that the court will accept written reports from the Department of Justice that include details from their records that indicate previous convictions. This correspondence would be considered ample proof of those convictions even though you do not confess to them, regardless of whether the previous convictions were claimed in the initial lawsuit lodged against you.

Drunk in Public

Drunk in public offenses, also known as public intoxication, are a common low-level infraction. Many people are unaware, however, that merely being intoxicated in public does not constitute public intoxication. Section 647(f) of the California Penal Code states that if you are inebriated, you must either:

  • You become a threat to yourself or others.

  • You are obstructing or stopping people from using public highways, sidewalks, or other forms of public transportation.

Of course, you would have been inebriated and in a public place in order to be charged with this crime. Here are a few scenarios in which you might be charged with public intoxication:

  • After a few drinks, you leave a bar and keep walking out into traffic on your way home.

  • You've had too much to drink and pass out on the pavement.

  • You take heroin in a public park and collapse on a park bench.

The state must show that a defendant was either too intoxicated to consider his or her own or others' protection, or that a defendant obstructed, interfered with, or otherwise hindered other citizens from safely using sidewalks, public streets, or other "public ways" to be convicted of drunk-and-disorderly conduct. In California, it's perfectly legal to be extremely intoxicated in public, but passing out on the sidewalk in a way that blocks other pedestrians could result in criminal prosecution.

In California, disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor, but it is more severe than disturbing the peace. A disorderly conduct conviction will result in a six-month sentence in county jail, as well as a fine – or both. Even if the punishment is just probation, the conviction is recorded on the offender's criminal record, which employers and professional licensing boards may access. Anyone convicted of disorderly behavior in southern California would require the advice and assistance of an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney.

Disturbing the peace is a special form of crime in several ways. Unlike murder or armed robbery, which are often crimes in any setting, actions that constitute disturbing the peace must occur in specific circumstances before they are considered crimes. This makes it more difficult for the state to obtain a conviction, which is why someone charged with disturbing the peace in California should contest the charge because they have a decent chance of succeeding.

Resisting Arrest

It is not unusual for people charged with disturbing the peace or being intoxicated in public to be charged with resisting arrest as well. Emotions are running heavy, you're frustrated or inebriated, and then the cops arrive, which always worsens the situation.

Regrettably, California's laws on resisting arrest are far too broad.

For deliberately preventing, obstructing, or stopping a law enforcement officer in the execution of their duties, you can be charged with resisting arrest under California Penal Code Section 148(a)(1). This is more than just fending off an arrest attempt; refusing to provide immediate and complete assistance will result in charges of resisting arrest. If you interacted with an EMT or firefighter who was trying to do their job, you might be charged with resisting arrest. Other acts that can lead to a charge of resisting arrest include:

  • To prevent a police officer from putting you in handcuffs, stiffen your arms.

  • Giving a police officer false facts.

  • Trying to stop an EMT from helping someone you were fighting.

  • Interrupting a police officer who is attempting to interview witnesses on several occasions.

As you can see, California's law on resisting arrest is incredibly broad, and even if you are otherwise innocent, you may be convicted.

If you are convicted of resisting arrest, you will face consequences

Resisting arrest is a misdemeanor in California, with the following consequences:

  • A year in county jail is possible

  • Fines

As previously stated, resisting arrest is often charged in conjunction with other offenses. As a result, the prosecution could try to get you to plead guilty to a crime you didn't commit by bringing this new charge against you. If you agree to plead guilty to resisting arrest, they will decide to dismiss another charge. Prosecutors also use this strategy to obtain convictions: the more charges they file against you, the more likely they are to succeed.

Getting In The Way Of A Public Meeting

Although the First Amendment guarantees a person's right to free speech, there are times when exercising one's right to free speech interferes with the lawful right of others to assemble. As a consequence, California Penal Code Section 403 PC makes it illegal to disrupt a public meeting.

To convict a defendant of disrupting a public meeting, the prosecutor must show the following elements:

  • The defendant acted in a way that was both subtle and clear in terms of how a public meeting should be run.

  • The defendant was aware or should have been aware that his or her actions were in violation of certain customs or laws.

  • And the defendant's behavior significantly and unfairly impeded the meeting's behavior.

  • An individual is not guilty of a crime unless the defendant's actions, rather than the message or expressive content of the acts, significantly impeded the meeting's behavior.

Getting In The Way Of A Religious Service

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects freedom of expression, which is a highly respected right. However, there are times when restricting a person's First Amendment rights is necessary, especially when the speech in question infringes on another's right to free exercise of religion. Disturbing a religious gathering is a criminal act under California Penal Code Section 302 PC, which carries stiff penalties.

A prosecutor must show the following elements to convict someone of disrupting a religious meeting:

  1. At a tax-exempt place of worship, the defendant disrupted or disquieted a gathering of people for religious worship.

  2. The defendant did so by using profane language, insulting or lewd acts, or excessive noise.

  3. The defendant did so with the intent of disrupting or disturbing the religious gathering.

The disruption can occur either inside the religious meeting's actual location or close enough to cause the religious community to be disturbed.

Disturbing the Peace Defenses

Although a conviction for a minor crime does not seem life-changing, it will also leave you with a criminal record. Simply holding a criminal record would alter your life for the rest of your life. Finding a decent career, securing safe accommodation, and maintaining professional licenses will be challenging. By providing a good legal defense, you will escape these fines and repercussions. The following defenses could be useful in your case for disrupting the peace:

  • The acts were not deliberate

  • You did not behave maliciously

  • Absence of a desire to incite abuse

  • The act was not carried out in public

  • Self-protection

  • Mistaken identity

  • False accusation

The essence of the incident and the details surrounding the arrest will determine possible defenses against a charge of disturbing the peace. If you're accused of fighting, you can argue that there was no war and that the people involved were just messing around or that it was in self-defense. Noise violations may be justified if there was no attempt to intentionally annoy another person or if the offender was unaware that another person was present. Claims that the expression was covered under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution could be used to defend against charges of using fighting words. An experienced Criminal Defense Attorney will be able to review the details of a defendant's case and explore defense options.

When engaging in constitutionally protected conduct, there is a significant risk of being investigated for "disturbing the peace." You should not have to plead guilty and have a criminal record if you were arrested for disturbing the peace while participating in a march or demonstration or making a political or social statement. You must fight for your rights and freedom of expression. Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in the East Bay who has experience representing individuals accused of criminal offenses.

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