Criminal Defense Lawyer for Disturbing the Peace

Updated: Apr 22

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.