Penal Code 169 - Picketing Outside a Courthouse

California Penal Code 169 PC is the California statute on picketing or parading outside a courthouse. Under this statute, it is a crime for a person to picket or parade 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.

Examples of illegal acts under PC 169 include:

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of picketing or parading in or near a courthouse. These include showing that an accused:

  • had no intent of wrongdoing;
  • was conducting a peaceful protest; and/or,
  • was arrested without probable cause.

Penalties

A violation of PC 169 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 not more than six months; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

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

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

1. What is the legal definition of picketing or parading in or near a courthouse?

Under California Penal Code 169 PC, 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.1

A judge or jury will determine whether a defendant had such intent by examining all of the facts in a given case.

Please note that PC 169 does not penalize, or make it a crime, for a person to peacefully protest outside a courthouse.

2. What are the legal defenses to accusations under Penal Code 169?

A person accused under PC 169 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 169 accusations are:

  1. no intent;
  2. peaceful protest; and/or,
  3. no probable cause.

2.1. No intent

Recall that a defendant is only guilty under Penal Code 169 if he has an intent to either:

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

Therefore, it is a solid defense for an accused to fight a Penal Code 169 charge by showing that he did not have this requisite intent.

2.2. Peaceful protest

Along similar lines to the defense in 2.1 above, an accused can challenge a charge by showing that his behavior was a simple protest as opposed to an unlawful picketing or parade. Peaceful protests are not against the law under PC 169. The defendant would want to highlight those facts that show a protest vs. an illegal picketing.

2.3. 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 PC 169, and there was no probable cause to do so, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal of, or reduction in, charges.

“Probable cause” essentially means that there is a reasonable belief that someone committed a crime (based on all of the circumstances).

man behind bars picketing
Violation of PC 169 can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

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

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 picketing or parading in or near a courthouse. These are:

  1. lynching – PC 405;
  2. failure to disperse – PC 409 and 416; and,
  3. rioting – PC 404.

4.1. Lynching – PC 405

California Penal Code 405 makes the act of lynching a crime. “Lynching” refers to a situation where rioters force a detainee from police custody.

Under PC 405, "the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer is a lynching."3

A violation of Penal Code 405 is charged as a felony. The crime is punishable by imprisonment in a California state prison for:

  • two years,
  • three years, or
  • four years.4

4.2. Failure to disperse – PC 409 and 416

Failure to disperse is a crime under both California Penal Code 409 and Penal Code 416.

Penal Code 409 makes it a misdemeanor to remain "present at the place of any riot, rout, or unlawful assembly, after the same has been lawfully warned to disperse, except public officers and persons assisting them in attempting to disperse the same."5

Penal Code 416 makes it a misdemeanor "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 office."6

As misdemeanor offenses, violations of either PC 409 or PC 416 are punishable by:

  • a maximum sentence of six months in a county jail; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.7

4.3. Rioting – PC 404

Rioting is a crime in California under Penal Code 404.

The crime of “rioting” or “participating in a riot” occurs when two or more people act together to do any of the following without authority of law:

  1. use force or violence;
  2. disturb the public peace; or
  3. threaten to use force or violence with immediate power to execute that threat.8

Participating in a riot is a California misdemeanor.9

The potential penalties include:

  • up to one year in county jail; and/or,
  • a fine of up to $1,000.10

Were you accused of picketing or parading outside a courthouse 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 California Penal Code 169, 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 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.”

  2. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  3. California Penal Code 405(a) PC.

  4. California Penal Code 405(b) PC.

  5. California Penal Code 409 PC.

  6. California Penal Code 416 PC.

  7. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  8. California Penal Code 404 PC.

  9. California Penal Code 405 PC.

  10. See same.

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