Creating or Maintaining a Public Nuisance
(Penal Code 372 & 373a PC)

Updated


Penal Code 372 PC is California's main statute with regards to public nuisances. This code section makes it a crime for a person to create or maintain a public nuisance, or, fail to remove one.

A “nuisance” is an activity or thing that affects the:

  • health,
  • safety, or
  • morals

of a community.

PC 372 states:

“Every person who maintains or commits any public nuisance, the punishment for which is not otherwise prescribed, or who willfully omits to perform any legal duty relating to the removal of a public nuisance, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Examples:

  • leaving a pet dog out all night and its constant barking disturbs the neighborhood's sleep.
  • owning a rundown home that attracts trash, bugs, and rodents into the community.
  • throwing nightly parties in a development that results in continual garbage and graffiti.

Defenses

A defendant can raise a legal defense to beat a charge under this statute. Common defenses include:

  • one-time event,
  • few people affected, and/or
  • no notice.

Penalties

A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor. This is opposed to a felony or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

A judge may award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

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

pit bull, a dog, not the rapper. Penal Code 372 PC
An example of a public nuisance would be leaving a pet dog out all night and its constant barking disturbs the neighborhood's sleep.

1. What is a crime under this statute?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a person under PC 372:

  1. the defendant maintained or effectuated any public nuisance, or
  2. the accused willfully failed to perform any legal duty to remove a public nuisance.1

California law defines a “public nuisance” as anything that:

  1. injures someone's health, offends someone, or prevents the free use of property, and
  2. interferes with a community's enjoyment of life or property.2

Note that a community may include:

  • an actual community,
  • a neighborhood, or
  • a large number of people.

Also note that a nuisance has to be a continual event. A one-time offensive activity is not enough.

Example: ABC Paint Co. is a paint manufacturer. It knowingly makes a lead-based paint for the inside of homes. The manufacturer knows the paint is a danger to people's health, but it promotes the paint's sale anyway.

Here, ABC is guilty of creating a public nuisance. The lead-based paint is a nuisance because:

  • it can injure a person's health, and
  • ABC's promotion of the paint has the potential of affecting a large number of people.

Further, since the company manufactured the paint, it created the nuisance.

The above example is based on a real California court case.3

In addition to PC 372, Penal Code 373a addresses public nuisances as well.

1.1. Penal Code 373a

Penal Code 373a PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to:

  1. maintain, permit, or allow a public nuisance to exist on a property he owns or leases, and
  2. do so after he receives written notice that the nuisance has to be fixed.4

The above notice is given by a health officer or city attorney.5

Example: Debbie owns a home that she rents out. Her tenants throw regular parties that spill out into the street. The parties result in alcohol bottles, beer cans, and other trash to be left in the neighborhood streets. A health officer writes Debbie and says she must fix the situation. Debbie fails to act.

Here, Debbie is guilty under PC 373a. Her tenants' regular parties created a public nuisance. She received notice to remedy the problem, but she failed to do so. Her inaction is an offense under this statute.

2. Are there legal defenses to 372 PC?

A defendant can challenge an accusation under these statutes with a good legal defense.

Three common defenses are:

  1. one-time event,
  2. few people affected, and/or
  3. no notice.

2.1. One-time event

Recall that an activity or object must happen on a regular basis for it to be a public nuisance. This means it is a defense for an accused to say that the unwelcome nuisance:

  • happened only once, and
  • never took place on a regular or repeated basis.

2.2. Few people affected

Also recall that something must affect:

  • a community, or
  • large number of people

for it to be a nuisance.

Therefore, it is always a defense for an accused to show that:

  • while his actions may have been offensive,
  • they only bothered a couple of people and not an entire neighborhood.

2.3. No notice

This is a defense to a charge under PC 373a. A person is only guilty under this statute if:

  • he failed to remedy a public nuisance,
  • after receiving notice.

This means it is a defense for a defendant to say he never received this requisite notice.

money under a gavel
A violation of this law can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. What are the penalties?

A violation of Penal Code 372 is a misdemeanor.

The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.6

4. Are there immigration consequences?

A conviction under these statutes will not result in any harmful immigration consequences.

A non-citizen defendant can sometimes get deported after committing a crime.

This happens, for example, if he commits either:

A crime under these statues, though, is not a deportable offense.

5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?

A person can get an expungement if convicted under these laws.

A judge will award an expungement provided that the defendant:

  • completes his jail term, or
  • completes probation (whichever one is imposed).

6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?

A conviction involving a public nuisance will not impact a defendant's gun rights.

Some California crimes, like felonies, can take away a person's right to:

  • own a gun, or
  • possess a gun.

Recall, though, that crimes under these statutes are misdemeanors. This means convictions will take away no gun rights.

7. Are there related offenses?

There are three crimes related to creating or maintaining a public nuisance. These are:

  1. disturbing the peace – PC 415,
  2. unlawful assembly – PC 408, and
  3. illegal dumping – PC 374.3.

7.1. Disturbing the peace – PC 415

Penal Code 415 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “disturbing the peace.”

A person commits this offense when he:

  • disturbs someone with loud music,
  • fights someone, or
  • uses offensive words in public.

7.2. Unlawful assembly – PC 408

California Penal Code 408 PC defines the crime of "unlawful assembly." The offense is committed if two or more people assemble together to:

  • do something illegal, or
  • do something legal, but in a violent manner.

7.3. Illegal dumping – PC 374.3

Penal Code 374.3 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to dispose of:

  • garbage,
  • waste, or
  • other similar matter

on public or private property.

For additional help...

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

For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For information on similar crimes in Nevada, please see our article on “NRS 202.470 - Public Nuisance Laws in Nevada.”


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 372 PC.

  2. California Penal Code 370 PC.

  3. See People v. ConAgra Grocery Products Co. (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 51.

  4. California Penal Code 373a PC.

  5. See Dapper v. Municipal Court of San Diego Judicial Dist. (1969), 276 Cal.App.2d 816.

  6. California Penal Code 19 PC.

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