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California’s Disturbing the Peace Laws

In California, whenever someone acts in a way that disrupts the public order or disturbs the peace and tranquility of the community, they are in violation of Penal Code 415 PC. Disturbing the peace laws cover a wide variety of activities, and for this reason they are one of the more commonly charged crimes. Most disturbing the peace offenses are misdemeanors, though some may be felonies or even infractions.

California law defines three forms of disturbing the peace providing prosecutors multiple ways to pursue criminal charges against defendants. A person can violate California’s “disturbing the peace” laws by:

Calling 911 and Filing a False Report

What some people consider worthy of a 911 emergency call can sometimes seem just a little over the top. Consider the infamous case of an Arizona couple who called 911 when their fast food order arrived missing the hashbrowns. The incident ultimately resulted in assault and disorderly conduct charges for the overwrought duo.

In California, an incident like this one would fall under Penal Code section 148.5. This section makes it illegal to knowingly make a false report of a crime (misdemeanor or felony) to a peace officer, to someone employed to accept crime reports (i.e., a 911 operator), or to a prosecutor. This crime is prosecuted as a misdemeanor and requires only that the person making the false report knows the report is untrue and knows that the person to whom he or she is giving the report is engaged in an official capacity to accept such reports (such as a police officer, a 911 operator, or a prosecutor). This section also makes it a misdemeanor to give a false report to a grand jury.

Capital Punishment Ruled Unconstitutional in California

Capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in the case of Jones v. Chappell on July 16, 2014. In August, California State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris declared that the federal judge’s decision in declaring the state’s enforcement of the death penalty unconstitutional was “flawed” and will be appealed. The appeal will be made to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In his July decision, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney – a federal judge in California – ruled in Jones v. Chappell that the machinery of death in California is so plagued by delays and arbitrariness that it amounts to a “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the federal constitution.

The Coming Use of Body Cameras

Due to recent events, the use of body cameras by law enforcement has become a hot topic of discussion wherever and whenever such things are debated. Casual observation would lead to the conclusion that their use has widespread enthusiastic support, but a deeper look would reveal that adoption of “body cams” raises many relevant questions in addition to the possible answers they might provide.

Early users of body cams in Southern California include programs in San Diego and Rialto. Rialto police working with a Cambridge University researcher found two notable results: Complaints against officers declined by 88 percent and officer use of force declined by 60 percent. The San Diego Police Department has had officers wearing the cameras during at least two shootings earlier this year. A heated controversy has arisen because the public has not been given access to the videos. The SDPD claims that once footage becomes part of an investigation, the department doesn’t have to release them to the public.

Showing Identification in California

In the United States there’s no law requiring citizens to carry identification of any kind. Indeed, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. While it is true that U.S. citizens are, in general, not obligated to show identification, it is probably a more prudent decision to show identification to police when asked.

In 1968, the Supreme Court established in the case of Terry v. Ohio that it is constitutionally permissible for police to temporarily detain a person based on reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Based on this case and others, many states have adopted stop-and-identify statutes which require citizens to reveal their identity when officers have reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity may be taking place, but California is not one of them. In those states with stop-and-identify laws, a person is required to provide his or her name, and failure to comply with the request may result in arrest.

Criminal Records, Employment and Expungement

The ability of employers to obtain a person’s criminal history has been simplified with the availability of online background check services. These information companies have organized criminal court records into extensive national databases that can be searched by name and date of birth. This new technology allows potential employers, licensing agencies and professional organizations to conduct a quick and thorough background check of your criminal record in moments.

Though Governor Brown signed AB 218, effective July 1, 2014, which bars public sector employers from asking about criminal records on employment applications, job applicants should be aware that this California measure does not apply to private businesses. However, local ordinances may include “ban the box” laws which prohibit some private businesses from including criminal record questions on job applications.

Miranda Rights and Pre-Arrest Questioning

In America, almost all TV cop shows have a scene where the hard nosed detective reads some hapless soul his “Miranda Rights.” As this scene has become almost obligatory, most dedicated TV fans can recite the familiar litany by heart. “You have the right….”

However, the exact wording of the “Miranda Rights” statement was not specified in Miranda v. Arizona, the landmark case in which the Supreme Court established the necessity of informing those in custody of their rights. As a practical matter, law enforcement agencies created a basic set of simple statements that can be read to accused persons prior to any questioning.

Sealing Juvenile Records in California

In California, the far reaching implications of a juvenile record, like an adult record, can include not only social stigma but, more importantly, barriers to employment, licensing, and housing years after a young person exits the juvenile system. Many people believe that their juvenile records are automatically sealed once they turn eighteen. They are not. These records remain accessible until a judicial order is obtained to have them sealed. Record sealing can offer many advantages, but people are often unaware that the process may be available to them.

Any criminal activity you were involved in as a minor (while under 18 years of age) is included in a California juvenile record. This encompasses arrest reports, court records, judge’s findings and rulings, exhibits, and probation reports. Keep in mind that juvenile proceedings are not technically considered “criminal” in nature. Being found guilty and declared a “ward of the juvenile court,” is not considered a criminal conviction. Thus even if juvenile records aren’t sealed, in a purely legal sense you have never been convicted of a “crime.”

Sentencing Enhancements

Sentencing enhancements can add more time in prison for a defendant convicted of a crime that was committed under special circumstances. Enhancements often come into play when either of two factors are present; firearms (or other deadly weapons) and gang affiliation. An enhancement is time added over and above the time that a person would normally receive for the specified crime they are accused of. These enhancements, particularly those given for the use of a weapon, can often exceed the sentence received for conviction of the actual crime itself.

California lawmakers have recognized that felony offenses involving firearms are much more serious and should carry harsher punishments. This lead the legislature to enact California Penal Code Section 12022 PC, which is a sentencing enhancement applicable to those whose felony offenses were committed while armed with a firearm. In these cases, the defendant is also accused of being armed with either a gun or another serious weapon as well as being accused of committing a felony crime. This enhancement can add significant prison time to any felony sentence imposed, up to life imprisonment in some extreme cases.

Possession of a Controlled Substance

While most references to “controlled substances” concern illegal drugs, the term actually applies to any drug, chemical, or material that has restricted use. California law makes it is not only illegal to possess drugs like cocaine and meth, but also certain “pharmacy” medications like hydrocodone, Xanax, and oxycontin unless you have a valid prescription. An individual may even face criminal charges if the controlled substance belongs to another, with or without that individual’s knowledge of the drug’s presence.

California has a Uniform Controlled Substance Act that is a consolidation of laws, comprising thirteen chapters, that regulate the possession, manufacture and distribution of prescription drugs like narcotics, stimulants, and depressants. Hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, and chemicals used in the illicit production of controlled substances or illegal drugs are also defined and regulated. The act provides for a clandestine laboratory enforcement program.

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