California Penal Code section 185 makes it a crime to wear a mask or personal disguise in order to do either of the following:
- Prevent people from recognizing or identifying you when you commit a California crime; or
- Conceal your identity or escape when you have been charged with, arrested for or convicted of a crime.1
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.
The legal definition of wearing 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”:
- You wore a mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise, either partial or complete; and
- You did so for one of the following two (2) purposes:
- Evading or escaping discovery, recognition or identification in the commission of any public offense; or
- 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.
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:
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation;
- Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).8
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.
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.”)
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 [may be charged instead of using a mask or disguise to escape from police]. (“a) Any person who falsely represents or identifies himself or herself as another person or as a fictitious person to any peace officer listed in Section 830.1 or 830.2, or subdivision (a) of Section 830.33, upon a lawful detention or arrest of the person, either to evade the process of the court, or to evade the proper identification of the person by the investigating officer is guilty of a misdemeanor. (b) Any person who falsely represents or identifies himself or herself as another person or as a fictitious person to any other peace officer defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, upon lawful detention or arrest of the person, either to evade the process of the court, or to evade the proper identification of the person by the arresting officer is guilty of a misdemeanor if (1) the false information is given while the peace officer is engaged in the performance of his or her duties as a peace officer and (2) the person providing the false information knows or should have known that the person receiving the information is a peace officer. 148.10. (a) Every person who willfully resists a peace officer in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment and whose willful resistance proximately causes death or serious bodily injury to a peace officer shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for two, three, or four years, or by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”)
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 PC – Offenses punishable in different ways by different provisions; double jeopardy; denial of probation. (“(a) An act or omission that is punishable in different ways by different provisions of law shall be punished under the provision that provides for the longest potential term of imprisonment, but in no case shall the act or omission be punished under more than one provision. An acquittal or conviction and sentence under any one bars a prosecution for the same act or omission under any other. (b) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a defendant sentenced pursuant to subdivision (a) shall not be granted probation if any of the provisions that would otherwise apply to the defendant prohibits the granting of probation.”)
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.
See also Penal Code 18 PC – Punishment for misdemeanor; punishment not otherwise prescribed. (“Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor [such as wearing masks or personal disguises] is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.”)