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Disturbing the peace

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Disturbing the Peace: An Excellent Alternative Plea for Immigrants and Citizens alike

The expression “Disturbing the Peace” is a part of our common vernacular through movies and television, but the specific acts which define “disturbing the peace” may surprise you. Consider the three “Disturbing the Peace” crimes recognized by the California Legislature.

California Penal Code section 415(1) – Unlawful Public Fight

California Penal Code section 415(1) makes it a crime for “Any person [to] unlawfully fight[] in a public place or challenge[] another person in a public place to fight.”

This is a crime similar to battery. It is generally used as a basis for arrest and charge when two people engage in a fight and when it is completely unclear who initiated the fight and who was acting in self-defense. This is a common situation in bar brawls where all the witnesses are intoxicated

California Penal Code section 415(2) – Loud and Unreasonable Noise

California Penal Code section 415(2) makes it a crime for “Any person [to] maliciously and willfully disturb another person by loud and unreasonable noise.”

This is the crime of partying to hard. Frequently, this charge arises where either a new neighbor moves into a neighborhood where loud noise is common and the new neighbor doesn’t like it, or a person moves into a quiet neighborhood and continually hosts parties with loud noise.

While generally, people are warned several times by law enforcement before an arrest or citation for this charge is made, a police officer may make an arrest the first time they are called to the scene.

Whether a person is arrested or prosecuted is almost always contingent on the cultural sensitivity of the officer and the prosecutor.

California Penal Code section 415(3) – Fighting Words

California Penal Code section 415(3) makes it a crime for “Any person [to] use offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction”

A long line of Supreme Court cases dating back to Chaplinksy vs. New Hampshire, (1942) 315 U.S. 568 have established that “fighting words,” or “words that inflict injury or tend to excite an immediate breach of the peace,” are not protected under the First Amendment and may subject the speaker to criminal sanction.

The Supreme Court observed in Chaplinsky that “Such words are of such little expositional or social value that any benefit they might produce is far outweighed by their costs on social interests in order and morality.”

A common example would be shouting racial or ethnic slurs against religious or racial minorities. Such conduct is, predictably, likely to cause an immediate breach of the peace and will not likely be protected by the First Amendment.

What’s the Worst that could happen?

All three of the crimes described in Penal Code section 415 are known as “wobblettes,” a derivative of the word wobbler. While wobblers are crimes punishable as felonies or misdemeanors, “wobblettes” are crimes punishable as either misdemeanors or infractions. An infraction is a crime which can only be punished by a fine.

  • As a misdemeanor: 90 days county jail, $400 plus penalties and assessments, summary probation
  • As an infraction: $400

For many people, a disturbing the peace conviction is actually a great alternative plea for a number of more serious charges. Even as a misdemeanor, Disturbing the Peace is not a crime of moral turpitude, meaning it would not likely be used as a basis for the deportation of the defendant if she is an immigrant.

And for those with no criminal histories, if there is any problem of proof which would make it hard for the prosecutor to get a conviction at trial, the prosecutor may allow that person to plead to an infraction, and they can thereby avoid probation and jail completely and just pay a fine.

What should I do if I am charged with Disturbing the Peace?

You should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, like those at Manshoory Law Group, APC to assist you in analyzing the specific facts of your case, preparing and presenting defenses before and during trial, and making sure you understand your rights and helping you enforce them. The consequents of Disturbing the Peace conviction can be far reaching and much greater than you expect. Call now for a free consultation, so that Manshoory Law Group can help put the odds back in your favor.