Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Understanding "Disturbing the Peace" PC§415

California Penal Code §415
It is true that disturbing the peace is considered a crime, however it's more commonly used as a plea bargaining tool by both the prosecution and defense. Criminal Defense Lawyers frequently maneuver for a disturbing the peace charge in order to avoid something more severe.

Penal Code §415 is what we affectionately call a "wobblet," which means that it is an offense that, where circumstances allow, prosecutors can charge as either a misdemeanor or as an infraction. The "wobblet's" big brother is the "wobbler," which is a crime that can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.

When you find yourself considering how to begin fighting a "disturbing the peace" charge, consider that it is an offense which can be rather difficult for the prosecutor to prove. That is, when he or she has to prove it against a good California criminal defense attorney who is ready, willing, and able to help you fight and beat this charge.

Local Codes or State Law
Movies, Television, and Crime Novels notwithstanding, most laws regarding noise from things like loud parties, construction at off hours, or that ridiculous guy blaring thumping bass from his car are normally enforced through local municipal codes rather than PC §415. Criminal "disturbing the peace" charges are commonly reserved for more severe situations and it is in those cases that a skilled Criminal Defense Attorney is essential.

How Will They Prove You Are Guilty?
There are three ways to violate California's "disturbing the peace" law.

California PC §415(1) "Unlawful Fighting"
To convict you of unlawful fighting under California "disturbing the peace law," the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you

1. willfully (deliberately or on purpose) and unlawfully fought another person (or challenged another person to fight), and
2. that the fight [or challenge] took place in a public place.

Remember Self Defense & Defense of Others
California law allows you to reasonably defend yourself or another when 1) you reasonably believe that you or another person is about to suffer bodily harm; AND 2) you reasonably believe that force is the only way to protect against that harm; AND 3) you use no more force than is reasonably necessary to defend against the danger.

California PC §415(2) "Unreasonable Noise"
To convict you of disturbing the peace by making "unreasonable noise," the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you:

1. willfully and maliciously* caused loud and unreasonable noise,
2. that noise disturbed** another person.

* Maliciously means intentionally doing a wrongful act with the unlawful intent of annoying or injuring another person.

**Disturbed another person means that the noise presented a danger of immediate violence, or was used for the purpose of disrupting lawful activities and not as a means to communicate

As you can see, these definitions and requirements are rather strict, which is why police don't regularly arrest people for "maliciously causing unreasonable noise." Folks are not generally arrested for loud music, loud cheers, loud games simply because they are not for the purpose of "annoying" other people and they do not present an immediate danger.

However, if you ignore requests by police or others who ask that you stop making loud, unreasonable noise a judge and/or jury could infer that your conduct was both willful and malicious and that you are in fact guilty.

California PC §415(3) "Fighting Words"
In order to convict you of provoking another person using "Fighting Words" the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you

1. used offensive words which were inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction,
2. those words were directed at one or more persons and spoken in a public place.

This offense is essentially an exception to the right of free speech that is otherwise guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because courts have held that the types of "offensive words" that this subdivision prohibits "necessarily invite a breach of the peace." Furthermore, the courts believe that these "fighting words" are never essential to the expression of ideas and that any value they may have is significantly outweighed by society's interest in order and morality. The standard is squishy because Courts determine what qualifies as "fighting words" on a case-by-case basis. It is the context surrounding your "fighting words" that is critical. You must speak the words in a provocative manner that is sure to provoke a violent response.

How Will We Fight a PC §415 Disturbing the Peace Charge?
A skilled California Criminal Defense Attorney could present a variety of defenses to this charge. The most appropriate and viable defense depends on the facts of the situation. That is why you must select an attorney who not only knows how to fight, but how to find and exploit the weaknesses in the prosecution's case. Likewise, you need an attorney who is responsive to you as an individual as well as a client; one who is available to you when you need him.

For more information about how you can fight the charges that you or a loved one are facing, contact The Law Office of David J. Givot at (310) 699-0070 or online at http://www.thelegalguardian.net/.


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