California law prohibits three separate actions under the Disturbing the Peace statute. Whether you have been charged with unlawful fighting, unreasonable noise, or offensive words, this conduct as set forth in California Penal Code section 415 can result in fines and even imprisonment. The vague nature of these laws, combined with the case-by-case application of the statute, can leave those accused feeling helpless. However, a skilled Riverside and San Bernardino County assault defense lawyer can help you set forth a defense to these charges, as well as any other criminal charges you may be facing. At The Law Office of Gregory H.Comings, Attorney Comings is prepared to assess the context of these criminal charges and help clients seek a fair outcome based on the specific facts of their case.
California Penal Code section 415 defines crimes against the public peace. For the first prohibited behavior, “unlawful fighting,” the defendant must have willfully fought another person in a public place. This conduct must be on purpose, or deliberate and not in self-defense. In some cases, battery charges accompany a disturbing the peace charge. According to Penal Code section 242, unlawfully and willfully using force on another person constitutes battery.
Under Penal Code section 415(2), maliciously and willfully disturbing another person through loud and “unreasonable noise” is prohibited. To meet the “malicious” element of this crime, you must have either intended to injure or annoy another person, or intended to commit a wrongful act. Additionally, that noise must have presented a danger of immediate violence, or have been used to disrupt lawful activities. Loud cheering or music will not typically lead to charges for disturbing the peace, as these activities are likely not intended to disturb others, nor do they present an immediate danger of violence.
Finally, according to California’s Penal Code section 415(3), using offensive words in a public place is illegal when those words are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction. The speaker must have said something that was reasonably likely to provoke someone to respond with violence, and when this statement was made, there must have been a clear and present threat that the other person would react violently. In other words, it is the context of the defendant’s use of “fighting words” that must be evaluated. Like the crime of assault, the speaker’s intent is important.
Charges brought by the State of California for disturbing the peace may lead to an infraction or misdemeanor. An infraction for disturbing the peace carries a fine, and is a non-criminal offense. A misdemeanor conviction may carry three months in county jail and a heavier fine. If you are convicted of misdemeanor disturbing the peace, this crime will appear on your criminal record.
Lack of intent is a strong defense that a criminal defense lawyer may assert on your behalf for each of the three actions cited by Penal Code section 415. For example, for charges of using offensive words, if you did not act in a willful or malicious manner, or with the intent of inciting violence, then the charge cannot stand. A reasonable belief that your words would not provoke an immediate, violent reaction will support a defense on your behalf.
As a particular defense to the charge of disturbing the peace, the First Amendment right to free speech may apply. If your words or conduct are protected according to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, then you cannot be found guilty of this crime.
The legal theory of self-defense may also apply to those facing disturbing the peace criminal charges. When you are accused of unlawful fighting, it is important to assess whether the elements of self-defense may apply. First, you must have reasonably believed that you, or another person, were going to suffer bodily harm. Second, you must have reasonably believed that force was the only method to protect yourself from harm. Finally, you must have used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend yourself (or another person) against the danger.
If you or someone close to you is facing criminal charges for disturbing the peace, speaking to an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help reduce your penalties or even dismiss the charges. At The Law Office of Gregory H.Comings, we bring experience and client advocacy to every case. When retaining Attorney Comings, clients remain apprised of the status of their case, and knowledgeable about their legal rights and options. San Bernardino and Riverside County Attorney Comings will fight to protect your rights. Our office can be reached by phone at (951) 686-3457 or through our online form. We proudly represent people throughout the locations of Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Temecula, Highland, Indio, Rancho Cucamonga, Moreno Valley, Victorville, and Redlands.