DISTURBING THE PEACE (PENAL CODE § 415)
All U.S. states have some form of public disturbance charge to catch would-be criminal offenders into some kind of arrestable offense. Usually when the person who is about to be arrested is not violating any kind of public offense, has nothing on their possession that would be deemed illegal, and is just being unpleasant to officers who just want their night to be a little bit more peaceful–Here comes the public disturbance charge. But what seems to look like a laughable and seemingly harmless criminal charge, can have dire consequences to the rest of someone’s professional and personal life.
Consider a job application where such an arrest or conviction shows up. What does the employer think of this professional looking candidate across from their desk? All that training and experience before them now looks like raging insubordinate trouble-maker that was non-compliant with authorities and managed to somehow wind up in a cop car. It’s a slippery slope that few can predict would have far-reaching ripple effects on the rest of your life. It’s good to know then what the law looks for.
A person can be arrested or charged if it can be established they were: (1) Unlawfully fighting or challenging someone to a fight in a public area (2) Disturbing other persons with loud and unreasonable noise in a willful and malicious way, or (3) Using offense words in a public place that are likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction Any of these three can get somebody in trouble with the law and land them a charge in their local courthouse. If you’re thinking to yourself, “What a minute, I’ve witnessed all kinds of situations that would qualify for this charge!”…chances are, so has everyone else. These are natural and normal interactions of human dynamics where people don’t see eye to eye and their emotions get the best of them. Why would it be a criminal offense? There are many reasons for that–mainly because no body wants any one person to be acting this way ALL the time, therefore, if we have enough of it–most people would like someone that can’t control themselves to be held liable to the courts so that we don’t have to put up with it forever. But the problem with that is it is easy to see how this can be abused by the system. Any one person who is having a bad day can wind up with handcuffs around their wrists for what should have been a private affair without anyone in the public interfering. The problem of course is, once it’s taken out to the public–the public responds in kind with this sort of charge.
The answer to this is maybe. If you were to find yourself being arrested for NO REASON whatsoever other than the fact that you had a disagreement with a law enforcement officer, then your arrest for this code section could be retaliation or abuse of process by the government.
We as Americans have a right to voice our disagreements with public servants and sometimes the way we voice ourselves does not have to be pleasant. Public officials place themselves in this kind of public service and are expected to receive this kind of judgment–but they are NOT allowed to retaliate against it or because it gets under their skin.
But because public servants are human like anyone, they can go too far and use a charge such as Disturbing the Peace to silence a critic, subvert free speech, or disperse a legal and protected gathering in the so-called name of “keeping the peace.” And in this kind of situation–it is a blatant offense to our civil and moral rights as free individuals.