Three California Crimes Often Charged During Floods or Other Emergencies

Posted by Neil Shouse | Nov 02, 2015 | 0 Comments

California is likely to experience a very strong El Nino this year. This means that floods, windstorms, mudslides, severe car accidents and other natural and man-made disasters may be rampant. 

This means that California cops may be making a larger-than-usual number of arrests for the following crimes:

Sightseeing at an emergency. Penal Code 402 PC sightseeing at an emergency is the act of going to or remaining at the scene of an emergency and thereby preventing emergency personnel (firefighters, police, EMTs) from doing their job. This California misdemeanor offense is often charged in connection with car accidents and crime scenes, but lingering at the scene of a natural disaster can lead to these charges as well.

Unauthorized entry into a closed emergency area. Penal Code 409.5 PC unauthorized entry into a closed emergency area is charged when someone goes into an area that has been closed to unauthorized people because of a disaster or other emergency and remains there even after an official tells them to leave. For example, entering an area that has been closed due to flooding in defiance of an official command can lead to charges under this law. PC 409.5 is also a misdemeanor.

Looting. Penal Code 463 looting occurs when someone commits either burglary, grand theft or petty theft during a state of emergency declared by a state or local government. Looting is the most serious of the crimes we've just listed--depending on the circumstances, it can be charged as either a misdemeanor OR a felony.

Police and other law enforcement have a hard job during times of natural and man-made disaster. But they are also human and can make egregious mistakes when they are under stress. Often charges for one of these three crimes arise from a situation where a police officer misinterpreted a person's innocent behavior during a disaster and accused them unfairly of committing a crime. (Refer to our article explaining the difference between robbery and burglary in California law.)

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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