Disturbing the Peace: CA Penal Code 415

Disturbing the peace (California Penal Code § 415) is a crime generally defined as the unsettling of proper order in a public space through one’s actions. This can include creating loud noise by fighting or challenging to fight, disturbing others by loud and unreasonable noise (including loud music or dog barking), or using offensive words or insults likely to incite violence. Here is the charge as defined in the California Penal Code:

§ 415. Disturbing the Peace

Any of the following persons shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than 90 days, a fine of not more than four hundred dollars ($400), or both such imprisonment and fine:

(1) Any person who unlawfully fights in a public place or challenges another person in a public place to fight.

(2) Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.

(3) Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.

Disturbing the peace is typically considered a misdemeanor or an infraction depending on the jurisdiction and is often punishable by either a fine or brief term in jail. On other rare occasions it is considered an ordinance, the lowest level of an offence. However, a person held in breach of the peace will not have a criminal record entered against their name; which would otherwise seriously hurt the person’s future dealings with authorities, or when seeking future employment.

With regard to noise, if there have not been active requests to the perpetrator to reduce the noise to a reasonable level, it is not considered an act of disturbing the peace.

What constitutes disturbing the peace is generally decided by the arresting officer and may vary widely.