What is the Law on affray in California and what are the Punishments for it?
Affray is committed by fighting in a public place and can disrupt the peace at the location or cause distress. The violence is unlawful in nature and makes people present at the scene feel unsafe. Since the affray is a criminal offense, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor.
In California, laws regarding affray come under the laws on disorderly conduct. The main burden of proof for the prosecutor is to prove that the defendant started a fight or encouraged someone to engage in a fight that disturbed the peace of the situation.
They do not need to prove that the actions were ‘intentional’ in order to charge the criminal offense. Other related offenses include disturbing a religious meeting (California Penal Code 302) or creating a public nuisance (California Penal Code 372 and 373a). On conviction, public nuisances are considered to be a misdemeanor.
Under the laws of disorderly conduct (California Penal Code Section 415), a person can be charged for disorderly conduct if:
- Willful and malicious disturbance by the alleged person, through loud and unreasonable noise. Here the person has an intention to disturb the peace at the place.
- The alleged individual can be charged for loud and unreasonable noise when it disturbs the entire neighborhood’s environment.
- A person can be charged with disturbing the peace on the basis of their use of offensive words and especially when the use of such words is likely to induce a violent reaction. The California court reviews the context in which the alleged person spoke the offensive words. The prosecutor is expected to clearly show how the offensive words could have led to clear and present danger. This is because the first amendment provides for the Freedom of Speech but certain times use of offensive words can be criminalized if it is creating a violent environment unsafe for the people present.
There are a few defenses that are considered during the review of the case:
- If the violent act, fight, noise or words were used in self-defense i.e. to protect oneself from any kind of harm being caused by another person.
- When the current action or injury to the peace was necessary to prevent a greater injury.
- The defendant can also claim that there were entrapped or tricked into acting in a certain way. It is considered when someone else may have created a situation leading to the alleged individual to act in a certain way to save their own prosecution.
- Out of proportion of police action.
On conviction, the individual can be charged with a fine not more than $400 or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 90 days or both.
Affrays though less severe than most offenses are also a lot more common and a huge threat to the general peace of the public and hence should be handled with equal sensitivity and seriousness.