Penal Code 602.1 - Obstructing a Public Business Establishment

California Penal Code 602.1 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to intentionally interfere with, or obstruct, a public business establishment.

Examples of illegal acts under this code section include:

  • protesters block the main entrance to a restaurant and yell at customers that want to go inside.
  • a few young adults intimidate people from entering a coffee shop because it refuses to serve a certain nationality.
  • Sierra Club supporters block the entry to a car dealership that is vocal in playing down the benefits of electric cars.

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of violating PC 602.1. These include showing that an accused:

  • did not act intentionally;
  • was peacefully protesting; and/or,
  • was not asked to leave.

Penalties

A violation of Penal Code 602.1 is charged as a misdemeanor (as opposed to a California felony or an infraction). The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to 90 days; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $400.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

angry protesters
California Penal Code 602.1 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to intentionally interfere with, or obstruct, a public business establishment.

1. What is the legal definition of obstructing a public business establishment?

California Penal Code 602.1 PC makes it a crime for a person to intentionally interfere with, or obstruct, a public business establishment.

A prosecutor must prove three elements in order to successfully convict a defendant under this code section. These are that the defendant:

  1. intentionally interfered with a public business establishment (“PBE”), or an occupation carried on by the owner of a PBE,
  2. did so by obstructing or intimidating the business's customers or persons attempting to carry on business with the PBE, and
  3. refused to leave the premises of the PBE after he was requested to do so by the business's owner or a police officer.1

California law defines a “public business establishment” as a commercial or noncommercial entity that is open to and serves the general public.2

Please note that the determination as to whether an accused “obstructed” or “intimidated” a customer will depend on all of the facts in a given case.3

2. What are the legal defenses to accusations under Penal Code 602.1 PC?

A person accused under PC 602.1 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to get the most effective defense.

Three common defenses to PC 602.1 accusations are:

  1. no intent;
  2. peaceful protest; and/or,
  3. no request to leave.

2.1. No intent

Penal Code 602.1 specifically states that a defendant must “intentionally” interfere with a customer in order to get convicted of a crime. This means it is a defense if a defendant did not act with any intent to interfere. For example, it is quite possible that an accused did interfere with a customer, but the interference was the result of an innocent accident.

2.2. Peaceful protest

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects a person's freedom of speech and the freedom to assemble and petition. Protests that are peaceful in nature and do not obstruct or intimidate with a business or its customers are perfectly legal - under both California law and the Constitution. A solid legal defense, therefore, is for a defendant to show that his actions were peaceful and did not obstruct or intimidate.

2.3 No request to leave

Recall that one of the things a prosecutor must show, to convict a person under PC 602.1, is that the defendant was asked to leave but refused to do so. More specifically, a prosecutor must show that a business owner or a police offer asked an accused to leave. This means a defendant has a valid legal defense if he was never asked to leave a business – even if he was obstructing and/or intimidating customers.

man behind bars
A violation of Penal Code 602.1 can result in jail time and/or a fine

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

A violation of Penal Code 602.1 is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to 90 days; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $400.4

Please note that in lieu of jail time a judge may order a defendant to misdemeanor probation. This is also called “summary” or “informal” probation.

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to obstructing a public business establishment. These are:

  1. trespass – PC 602;
  2. picketing outside a courthouse – PC 169; and,
  3. intentional interference with prospective economic relations.

4.1. Trespass – PC 602

California Penal Code 602 PC prohibits the crime known as trespass.

Per Penal Code 602, a person commits the offense of trespassing when he enters or remains on someone else's property without permission or a right to do so.5

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,
  • entering and "occupying" another person's property without permission, and
  • refusing to leave private property after a person has been asked to do so.6

In most cases, trespass is a misdemeanor and is punishable by:

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

However, certain kinds of trespass in California law may only lead to infraction charges, with a penalty consisting of a small fine.8

And if a defendant commits what is known as "aggravated trespass" -- in which he threatened to injure someone physically and then entered their home or workplace without permission, -- he may face felony trespass charges. This could mean a jail sentence of 16 months, or two or three years.9

4.2. Picketing outside a courthouse – PC 169

California Penal Code 169 PC is the California statute on picketing or parading outside a courthouse.

Under Penal Code 169, it is a crime for a person to picket or parade in or near a courthouse with the intent to either:

  • interfere with or obstruct the administration of justice; or,
  • influence any judge, juror, witness, or officer of the court.10

A violation of PC 169 is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.2

4.3. Intentional interference with prospective economic relations

“Intentional interference with prospective economic relations (“IIPER”) is a type of unfair business practice in California.

To make out a case for IIPER, a plaintiff must prove that:

  1. the plaintiff had an economic relationship with a third party, with the probability of future economic benefit to the plaintiff;
  2. the defendant knew of the relationship;
  3. the defendant engaged in wrongful conduct in order to disrupt the relationship or with knowledge that disruption was substantially certain to occur;
  4. as a result of defendant's conduct, the relationship was actually disrupted, and
  5. because of the disruption, the plaintiff suffered economic harm.11

A person that engages in this act commits a tort and may be held liable in civil court for damages. These damages include compensatory damages, and in some cases, punitive damages.

Were you accused of obstructing a public business establishment in California? Call us for help…

california legal defense obstruction of public business
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under California Penal Code 602.1 PC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 602.1(a) PC. This code section states: Any person who intentionally interferes with any lawful business or occupation carried on by the owner or agent of a business establishment open to the public, by obstructing or intimidating those attempting to carry on business, or their customers, and who refuses to leave the premises of the business establishment after being requested to leave by the owner or the owner's agent, or by a peace officer acting at the request of the owner or owner's agent, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for up to 90 days, or by a fine of up to four hundred dollars ($400), or by both that imprisonment and fine.

  2. California Civil Code 51.5 CC.

  3. Myung-Sup Shin v. City of Union City, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19490.

  4. California Penal Code 602.1(a) PC.

  5. California Penal Code 602 PC.

  6. See same.

  7. See same.

  8. California Penal Code 602.8 PC.

  9. California Penal Code 601 PC.

  10. California Penal Code 169 PC. That code section states: “Any person who pickets or parades in or near a building which houses a court of this state with the intent to interfere with, obstruct, or impede the administration of justice or with the intent to influence any judge, juror, witness, or officer of the court in the discharge of his duty is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

  11. Youst v. Longo (1987) 43 Cal.3d 64. See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) 2202. Intentional Interference with Prospective Economic Relations.

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