“Snooki” from MTV’s hit show Jersey Shore, plead guilty to disturbing beachgoers during an incident in July on a New Jersey beach. Snooki, who was under the influence of alcohol, stumbled about beach, used profanity and disturbed other beachgoers. A judge sentenced Snooki to perform two days of community service and pay fines exceeding $500. Snooki originally faced charges of disorderly conduct, being a public nuisance and criminally annoying others, which carried a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and $3,200 in fines.
Had Snooki been convicted in California, she may have been charged with Disturbing the Peace, which punishes: (1) unlawful fighting, (2) unreasonable noise and (3) fighting words. Snooki’s conduct would likely constitute “unreasonable noise,” charged under Penal Code Section 415(2).
California Penal Code 415 punishes the crime commonly referred to as “Disturbing the Peace”. Disturbing the Peace may be charged in cases involving fighting, excessive noise and other public disturbances. Disturbing the Peace may be charged as a misdemeanor or infraction. A charge of Disturbing the Peace is often part of a plea deal – a Defendant agrees to plead guilty to Disturbing the Peace in exchange for the dismissal of a more serious criminal charged. Disturbing the Peace carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $400 fine.
To be convicted of “unlawful fighting”, the prosecutor must prove that a person willfully and unlawfully fought or challenged another to a fight, and that the fight or challenge occurred in public. “Willfully” means that the person fought deliberately or on purpose. If a person fights in self-defense or defense of another, that person may have a self-defense defense if (1) the person reasonably believed that they or another were about to suffer bodily harm, (2) the person reasonably believed that force was the only way to protect against the harm, and (3) the person used no more force than reasonably necessary.
To be convicted of “unreasonable noise”, the prosecutor must prove that a person willfully and maliciously caused loud and unreasonable noise that disturbed another person. To maliciously cause loud and unreasonable noise means that the person intentionally does the act with the unlawful intent to annoy or injury another person. “Unreasonable noise” is often charged as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor.
To be convicted of “fighting words”, the prosecutor must prove that a person used offensive words that were inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction, and that those words were spoken in a public place and directed at one or more persons.