California does not have a specific law that defines the crime of disorderly conduct. However, there are a number of minor offenses, including disturbing the peace, loitering and rioting, that are generally grouped into the category regarded as disorderly conduct.
Specifically, California law makes it a crime for people to:
- engage in “disorderly conduct,” per Penal Code 647,
- disturb the peace, per Penal Code 415,
- trespass, per Penal Code 602,
- riot, per Penal Code 404, and
- fail to disperse, per Penal Code 416.
Examples of illegal acts under these code sections include:
- John gives a prostitute money for certain “services.”
- Jerome challenges a guy to a fight during a local concert.
- Lila, acting without permission from anyone, cuts down her neighbor’s trees.
Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused of a crime under any of California’s disorderly conduct laws. These include showing that the defendant:
- a county jail sentence for up to one year, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 647 PC – disorderly conduct?
- 2. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 415 PC – disturbing the peace?
- 3. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing?
- 4. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 404 PC – rioting?
- 5. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 416 PC – failing to disperse?
- 6. Are there legal defenses to accusations of violating a disorderly conduct law?
1. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 647 PC – disorderly conduct?
PC 647 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to engage in “disorderly conduct.”1
Per PC 647, a person is guilty of engaging in disorderly conduct if he does any of the following:
- solicits or engages in prostitution,2
- begs for or solicits food or money in public,3
- is intoxicated by drugs or alcohol in public,4
- wandering or loitering on private property without permission or no reason to do so,5 and
- invades someone’s privacy by recording or “peeping” at another – such as in a dressing room – for the viewer’s sexual arousal.6
The crime of disorderly conduct is charged as a misdemeanor. Penalties for this criminal charge include:
- up to six months of jail time, and/or
- a fine of $1,000.7
Note that some courts may permit defendants do to community service if they cannot pay the fine.
2. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 415 PC – disturbing the peace?
PC 415 is the California criminal law that makes it a crime for a person to “disturb the peace,” meaning to either:
- fight, or challenge someone to a fight, in a public place,
- purposefully disturb another person with loud and unreasonable noise, and
- use offensive words in a public place that are likely to provoke a violent reaction.8
A violation of PC 415 is charged as a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for up to 90 ninety days, and/or
- a maximum fine of up to $400.9
Please note that a prosecutor can charge this crime as “disturbing the peace,” regardless of the specific facts making up the crime.10
3. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing?
PC 602 is the California statute that defines the crime of criminal trespass. A person commits trespassing when he or she enters, or remains on, someone else’s property without permission or a right to do so.
PC 602 describes over thirty activities that are considered criminal trespass.
The most common acts that are prohibited by California trespassing laws include:
- entering someone else’s property with the intent to damage that property,
- entering someone else’s property with the intent to interfere with or obstruct the business activities that are conducted there, and
- entering and “occupying” another person’s property without permission.
Other, more specific forms of trespass in California include things like:
- taking soil, dirt, or stone off of someone else’s land without permission,
- taking oysters or other shellfish off of someone else’s land, and
- cutting down a neighbor’s trees without permission.11
The vast majority of trespass cases are charged as misdemeanors. Potential penalties can include:
- misdemeanor (summary) probation,
- up to six months in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.12
4. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 404 PC – rioting?
PC 404 is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to use, or threaten to use, unlawful force or violence in a public place.13
A violation of PC 404 is charged as a misdemeanor. Penalties include:
- imprisonment for up to one year in the county jail, and/or
- a maximum fine of up to $1,000.14
5. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 416 PC – failing to disperse?
PC 416 is the California statute that makes it a crime for two or more people to disturb the peace and then refuse to comply with a lawful order by police personnel to disperse.15
Because freedom of assembly is a Constitutional right protected by the First Amendment, courts have said that these laws can apply only to unlawful assembly, not to assembly itself:
“We construe Penal Code section 416 as empowering a public official to demand dispersal only where there is probable cause to believe that the purpose of an assembly is unlawful, according to the facts and circumstances of each individual case.”16
A violation of PC 416 is charged as a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
- restitution, or payment for any damages caused by the crime.
6. Are there legal defenses to accusations of violating a disorderly conduct law?
A person accused of breaking a disorderly conduct law can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.
Three common defenses to disorderly conduct charges are:
- no prohibited act
- falsely accused, and/or
- no probable cause.
6.1. No prohibited act
All of California’s disorderly conduct laws set forth a specific act that is unlawful or prohibited (e.g., soliciting a prostitute, playing music loud in public, trespassing, or other dissolute conduct). This means it is always a legal defense for an accused to show that his conduct, or actions, did not amount to a prohibited act under these laws. To use this defense, the defendant would have to highlight specific facts within his case that show no unlawful act was committed.
6.2. Falsely accused
Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to get prosecuted based on false allegations. People get falsely accused out of
- revenge, and
Thus, it is a valid defense for a defendant to say that a party falsely accused him of violating one of California’s disorderly conduct laws.
6.3. No probable cause
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police officers must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.
If a person was stopped or arrested for violating a disorderly conduct law, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest by law enforcement could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal of the charges and could keep your criminal record clear.
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under PCs 647, 415, 602, 404, or 416, we invite you to contact us to discuss creating an attorney-client relationship. We have offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, and throughout the state of California.
For information on Nevada, please see our article on Clark County NV “Disorderly Conduct” Laws (CCO 12.33.010) Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys.
For information on Colorado, please see our article on: Colorado “Disorderly Conduct” Laws C.R.S. 18-9-106.
- California Penal Code 647a PC. This code section states: “Except as provided in paragraph (5) of subdivision (b) and subdivision (l), every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty…, a misdemeanor…”
- PC 647b.
- PC 647c.
- PC 647f.
- PC 647h.
- PC 647j.
- PC 647.
- PC 415.
- See same.
- In re Application of Deusing (1918), 178 Cal. 205.
- PC 602.
- See same.
- PC 404.
- See same.
- PC 416.
- California Penal Code section 416 PC.
- See Chambers v. Municipal Court (1977) 65 Cal. App. 3d 904