Disturbing the peace is kind of a blanket term in California. If you’re charged with disturbing the peace, it basically means that you did something to irritate someone. Examples of this can include anything from deciding to mow your lawn in the middle of the night to playing really loud music, getting into a fight and even using language that someone near you found offensive.
The truth is that the police frequently get calls about disturbing the peace. While they always respond to these calls, they don’t always file charges. An example of a case where they might decide to skip filing charges and simply issue a warning is if a neighbor calls the police and complains that you’re swearing is disturbing their peace. In this situation, the police might ask you to clean up your language or at least swear quietly. They may also ask some questions to see if there’s an underlying and potentially illegal reason why your neighbor is so irritated with you.
On the other hand, if you’re throwing a party and the police have had several complaints about the noise, it’s likely that they will decide to press charges of disturbing the peace.
When you review Penal Code 415 PC, which discusses disturbing the peace in California, you’ll learn that people who are convicted of disturbing the peace are:
(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.
If a disturbing the peace case makes it to trial, the main thing the prosecution must prove to secure a conviction is that the defendant willfully disturbed the peace. This is one of the main reasons many police officers issue a warning when they originally responded to a disturbing the peace call. It’s easy for a defendant to say that they didn’t know they were disrupting someone the first time a call is made. It’s harder for them to claim they weren’t willfully doing something that they knew irritated others the second, third or fourth time the police are called.
The maximum sentence connected to a disturbing the peace conviction is a 90-day jail sentence and/or a $400 fine.