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Do you ever wonder what those mysterious codes mean when you are watching a television crime show and the police radio is spewing out triplets of numbers? If the show is set in California, these numbers relate to Los Angeles penal code crimes.
How the California Penal Code is organized
The California Penal Code was one of four state-wide codes that were enacted in 1872. It is organized into six parts, which are further subdivided into titles, chapters and sections. It is the section numbers that form the shorthand with which the police communicate over their radios.
More than just a laundry list of things for which people get busted, such as arson (451), burglary (459) or public drunkenness (647(f)), the Penal Code lays out the criminal procedures system, as well as operation of county jails and state prisons. Part 4 codifies statutes governing the training of police and prison officers, procedures for running criminal investigations, the prevention and control of crimes, and gun control.
A separate part, Part 6, deals with the management of weapons. California drug laws are not dealt with in the Penal Code but the Health and Safety Code. The California Vehicle Code handles provisions affecting motor vehicles, motorists and traffic laws. The list of codes has grown considerably since 1872 and now includes codes governing civil procedures, education, elections, insurance and labour, among others.
Less familiar Los Angeles Penal Code crimes
Numbers aside, most people have heard of crimes like arson, manslaughter and robbery. What you may not be aware of, and could therefore potentially commit without knowing it, lesser-known sections of the penal code. What follows is a brief selection of codes and how they might be defended in a court of law.
Section 185: Wearing a Mask or Disguise to Evade Police
Note that you do not have to go to the trouble of wearing an elaborately-fashioned effigy of Batman, Barack Obama or Groucho Marx; a simple balaclava or bandana can land you in hot water. This code specifically, and only, relates to using a mask/disguise to evade arrest or to escape from law enforcement. If you are charged with using a disguise or mask during the commission of a crime, you cannot be prosecuted under Section 185 as well.
How would our firm, as your legal representative, defend you against a 185? The prosecution has to prove intent, which is hard to do. We might argue that you were wearing a bandana because you are allergic to dust, or you wore the Batman mask because you were on your way to a costume party. Another approach would be to deny that you were guilty of committing the underlying crime.
Sections 403 and 302: Disturbing a meeting/religious meeting, respectively
Section 403, Disturbing a Public Meeting or Assembly, impinges on the First Amendment, an individual’s rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. By simply playing a loud boom box outside where a meeting is taking place, you may find yourself being arrested for violation of this section of the Penal Code. You might also find the hand of the law reaching out to the back of your collar for chanting loudly at a prayer meeting in violation of Section 302. The difference between the two crimes is that violating Section 302 carries a possible penalty of one year in prison, as opposed to a maximum of six months for a 403. This reflects the public policy to protect the sanctity of religious gatherings.
How would we defend you against a charge of disturbing a meeting, religious or otherwise? The prosecution must prove that the defendant knew that his acts would violate the meeting. We might argue that the defendant was not warned or asked to stop his actions.