Updated July 1, 2020
Penal Code 185 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to wear a mask or disguise to evade police after committing a crime. The law also makes it a crime for a person to wear a mask to escape after being charged with, arrested for, or convicted of an offense.
185 PC states that “it shall be unlawful for any person to wear any mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise (whether complete or partial) for the purpose of [either] evading… in the commission of any public offense, [or] Concealment, flight, or escape, when charged with, arrested for, or convicted of, any public offense.”
- committing the crime of shoplifting and then putting on a wig outside the store
- breaking free from the cops after an arrest and then wearing a mask to avoid detection
- putting on dark sunglasses to “shale” the police after trespassing
Several defense strategies are common with this charge. Some defenses include the accused showing that:
- the defendant did not have criminal intent,
- there was no underlying crime, and
- there was no mask or disguise.
The offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. Is it a crime to wear a mask to avoid apprehension?
- 2. Are there defenses to a 185 PC charge?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
- 5. Are there related offenses?
1. Is it a crime to wear a mask to avoid apprehension?
A prosecutor has to prove the following in order to convict a person under this statute:
- the defendant wore a mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise, and
- the accused did so to either:
- a. evade or escape discovery after completing a crime, or
- b. hide or escape after being charged with, arrested for, or convicted of an offense.1
Example: Carrie shoplifts an expensive scarf while shopping at a department store, a crime per Penal Code 459.5. She suspects the store has security cameras that may have recorded her. So, hoping to evade police after leaving the store, she puts on a wig and dark sunglasses that had in a backpack.
Here, Carrie used a disguise to try and evade police after committing a crime. She is guilty under PC 185.
Note that “false whiskers” refer to things like a:
- fake mustache, or
- fake beard.
2. Are there defenses to a 185 PC charge?
Defense lawyers draw on several legal strategies in attacking charges under these laws. These include showing that:
- the defendant did not have criminal intent when wearing a mask or disguise.
- the accused did not commit an underlying crime.
- the defendant was not wearing a mask, whiskers, or a disguise.
2.1. No criminal intent
A person is only guilty of this offense if he/she acted with:
- an intent to evade police, or
- an intent to avoid police detection.
This means it is a valid defense for an accused to say that he did not have this intent. Perhaps, for example, the defendant wore a mask for fun because it was Halloween.
2.2. No underlying crime
A person only commits this crime if he/she committed some other underlying offense. A defense, therefore, is for a defendant to say there was no other crime.
Example: Police find Nia sneaking around her neighborhood wearing a mask. It is neither Halloween, nor, are there any other people with masks or disguises. The cops, though, arrest her and charge her under Penal Code 185.
Here, Nia is not guilty under the statute. She was not wearing the mask to evade police after the commission of any crime. There is no guilt because Nia did not commit an underlying offense.
2.3. No mask or disguise
Recall that an accused is only guilty under this statute if he wore:
- a mask,
- false whiskers, or
- a disguise.
PC 185 specifically uses this language. Therefore, a defendant can show his innocence by saying that he did not have one of these objects.
Perhaps, for example, an accused tried to:
- outrun the police, or
- evade them by slipping through alleyways.
These are both attempts to evade or escape without a mask or disguise.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this law is a misdemeanor.
The offense is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.2
4. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
A person can get an expungement if convicted under these laws.
A judge will grant expungement if a convicted party successfully completes:
- probation, or
- his jail term (whichever was imposed).
An expungement is favorable since it erases many of the hardships of a conviction.
5. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to wearing a mask or disguise to evade police. These are:
- resisting arrest – PC 148,
- false identification to a police officer – PC 148.9, and
- robbery – PC 211.
5.1. Resisting arrest – PC 148
Penal Code 148 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of resisting arrest. This section makes it a crime for a person to:
- willfully resist or obstruct a police officer or EMT, and
- do so in the performance of his or her official duties.
5.2. False identification to a police officer – PC 148.9
Penal Code 148.9 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:
- knowingly provide false identification, and
- to do so to a police officer.
5.3. Robbery – PC 211
Penal Code 211 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of robbery. This section makes it a crime for a person to:
- take personal property from someone else’s person or immediate presence,
- do so against the victim’s will, and
- do so through the use of force or fear.
Robbery is always a felony in California.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
- California Penal Code 185 PC. See also Ghafari v. Mun. Court for San Francisco Judicial Dist. (1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 255.
- California Penal Code 185 PC. See also California Penal Code 19 PC.