California Disorderly Conduct Laws

California's “disorderly conduct laws” make it a crime for people to:

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.

Defenses

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:

Penalties

A violation of these laws is typically charged as a misdemeanor (as opposed to an infraction or a felony). Specific penalties may include:

  • imprisonment in county jail 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:

cartoon of prostitutes hanging out by a light

1. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 647 PC - disorderly conduct?

Penal Code 647 PC 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:

The crime of disorderly conduct is charged as a misdemeanor. Penalties include:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a fine of $1,000.7

2. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 415 PC - disturbing the peace?

Penal Code 415 PC is the California statute 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,” irregardless as to the specific facts making up the crime.10

3. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 602 PC - trespassing?

Penal Code 602 PC 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:

riot police

4. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 404 PC – rioting?

Penal Code 404 PC 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?

Penal Code 416 PC 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 these crimes are:

  1. no prohibited act
  2. falsely accused, and/or
  3. 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, or trespassing). 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

  • jealousy,
  • revenge, and
  • anger.

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 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 could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

Were you accused of violating a disorderly conduct law in California? Call us for help…

california criminal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Codes 647, 415, 602, 404, or 416, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.

For information on Nevada's disorderly conduct laws, 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's disorderly conduct laws, please see our article on: Colorado "Disorderly Conduct" Laws C.R.S. 18-9-106.


Legal References:

  1. 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 of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor…”

  2. California Penal Code 647b PC.

  3. California Penal Code 647c PC.

  4. California Penal Code 647f PC.

  5. California Penal Code 647h PC.

  6. California Penal Code 647j PC.

  7. California Penal Code 647 PC.

  8. California Penal Code 415 PC. This code section states: “Any of the following persons shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than 90 days, a fine of not more than four hundred dollars ($400), or both such imprisonment and fine:

    (1) Any person who unlawfully fights in a public place or challenges another person in a public place to fight.

    (2) Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.

    (3) Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.”

  9. See same.

  10. In re Application of Deusing (1918), 178 Cal. 205.

  11. California Penal Code 602 PC. This code section states: “Except as provided in subdivisions (u), (v), and (x), and Section 602.8, every person who willfully commits a trespass by any of the following acts is guilty of a misdemeanor:

    (a) Cutting down, destroying, or injuring any kind of wood or timber standing or growing upon the lands of another.

    (b) Carrying away any kind of wood or timber lying on those lands.

    (c) Maliciously injuring or severing from the freehold of another anything attached to it, or its produce…”

  12. See same.

  13. California Penal Code 404 PC. This code section states as follows: “Any use of force or violence, disturbing the public peace, or any threat to use force or violence, if accompanied by immediate power of execution, by two or more persons acting together, and without authority of law, is a riot.”

  14. California Penal Code 404 PC.

  15. California Penal Code 416 PC. This code section states: “If two or more persons assemble for the purpose of disturbing the public peace, or committing any unlawful act, and do not disperse on being desired or commanded so to do by a public officer, the persons so offending are severally guilty of a misdemeanor.”

  16. See Chambers v. Municipal Court, 65 Cal. App. 3d 904.

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