Penal Code 185 PC - Wearing a Mask or Disguise to Evade Police

Penal Code 185 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to wear a mask or personal disguise in order to do either of the following:

  1. Prevent people from recognizing or identifying you when you commit a California crime; or
  2. Conceal your identity or escape when you have been charged with, arrested for or convicted of a crime.

Example: Thomas is a wealthy investment advisor. He is charged with Penal Code 503 PC embezzlement for allegedly stealing large amounts of money from his clients. He posts bail and is released from jail in advance of his trial.

Thomas makes plans to jump bail and move to Polynesia. He uses a fake beard and wig to disguise himself when he goes to the airport.

Thomas may be guilty of using a personal disguise to evade police under PC 185.

When is it a crime to wear a mask to evade police?

The legal definition of PC 185 using a mask or personal disguise consists of the following “elements of the crime”:

  1. You wore a mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise, either partial or complete; and
  2. You did so for one of the following two (2) purposes:
    1. Evading or escaping discovery, recognition or identification in the commission of any public offense; or
    2. Concealment, flight or escape when charged with, arrested for or convicted of any public offense.2

Example: While shopping at a large department store, Carrie slips an expensive scarf into her purse.

Carrie suspects the store has security cameras that may have recorded her as she took the scarf. So in order not to get caught by security as she leaves the store, she walks to a different section of the store and puts on a wig and sunglasses that she brought into the store in her purse.

Because she put on a disguise to avoid being apprehended for committing the crime of petty theft (shoplifting), Carrie is guilty under Penal Code 185 PC.

According to Bakersfield criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse3:

“An important point to note about wearing a mask or personal disguise is that you can only commit this crime if you also commit or are charged with another offense. Let's say you are wearing a disguise in order to conceal your identity from the authorities—but you have not committed or been charged with another crime. In that case, you may not be guilty under Penal Code 185.”

However, if you use a disguise in part to mis-identify yourself to a law enforcement officer, you may still be charged with Penal Code 148.9 PC false identification to a police officer—even if you have committed no other crime.4

One other important point about California Penal Code 185 is that you cannot be punished for both this offense and the other crime you are alleged to have committed while wearing a mask or disguise. Punishment for both offenses would violate California's “double jeopardy” law.5

Example: Richard works with an accomplice to rob several pizzerias. During the robberies, he covers his face with a bandana.

If Richard is convicted of Penal Code 211 PC robbery or conspiracy to commit robbery, he may not also be punished for Penal Code 185 using a mask to commit those crimes.7

What are the penalties under 185 PC?

Using a mask or personal disguise to avoid arrest or escape from the police is a misdemeanor in California law.7

The potential penalties include:

Are there legal defenses to the charge?

Fortunately, there are a variety of common legal defenses that your California criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf.

Defendants charged under PC 185 will often argue that they did not actually intend to avoid detection or evade police. People wear masks and disguises for all kinds of reasons—and proving intent can be difficult for prosecutors.

Another possible legal defense is that you did not commit an underlying crime. You are only guilty of using a personal disguise to evade police if you are either charged with/arrested for/convicted of an offense or wore the mask or disguise while committing a crime. If the prosecutor can't prove you were committing an offense, you are not guilty under this law.

Call us for help…

For questions about the crime of Penal Code 185 PC wearing masks or personal disguises to evade police, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Legal References:

1 Penal Code 185 PC – Wearing masks or personal disguises. (“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: One--Evading or escaping discovery, recognition, or identification in the commission of any public offense. Two--Concealment, flight, or escape, when charged with, arrested for, or convicted of, any public offense. Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.”)

2 Same.

3 Bakersfield criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse is the Managing Attorney of Shouse Law Group. He is a former Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, where he worked on cases ranging from misdemeanors like wearing a mask to evade police to complex, high profile murders. Shouse is an expert on all aspects of criminal and sex crimes defense law and frequently appears as a guest legal commentator on national television.

4 Penal Code 148.9 PC – False identification to a peace officer

5 See People v. Sering (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 677, 682 n.2. (“Sering was also convicted of wearing a disguise during the robberies, in violation of section 185. Sering contends, and the People concede, section 654 precludes punishment under both sections 185 and 211 for his wearing a disguise during the robberies. (People v. Perez (1979) 23 Cal.3d 545, 551, 153 Cal.Rptr. 40, 591 P.2d 63.) Accordingly, we modify his sentence to exclude the five additional days imposed for the section 185 [using mask or disguise to evade police] violation.”)

See also Penal Code 654 6 Based on the facts of People v. Sering, endnote 5 above.


7 Penal Code 185 PC – Wearing masks or personal disguises, endnote 1 above.

8 Same.

See also California Penal Code 18 

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