Penal Code 372 PC | Creating or Maintaining a Public Nuisance

Penal Code 372 PC | Creating or Maintaining a Public Nuisance in California

Penal Code 372 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to create or maintain a public nuisance. A public nuisance is something that negatively impacts an entire community or neighborhood. Some common examples include:

  • Loud noises or music
  • Offensive odors
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Hazardous waste
  • Criminal activity on a property

Public nuisance charges are misdemeanors in California, punishable by up to 6 months in county jail. But the crime becomes a wobbler offense if the nuisance was done maliciously, punishable by up to 3 years in jail.

Let’s take a closer look at the California “public nuisance” law, the penalties, and legal defenses that a skilled California criminal defense lawyer could use to help accused people fight these allegations.

1. Legal Definition of Public Nuisance Per PC 372

1.1. Penal Code 372 PC states that “every person who maintains or commits any public nuisance, the punishment for which is not otherwise prescribed, or who willfully omits to perform any legal duty relating to the removal of a public nuisance, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

1.2. Per California law, a public nuisance is something that is:

  • Injurious to health, indecent, or offensive to the senses;
  • An obstruction to the free use of property;
  • Unlawfully obstructs the free passage or use of navigable waters or public parks, squares, streets, or highways;

1.3. Some examples of acts that courts have held to be public nuisances include:

  • Loud noises
  • Noxious odors
  • Pollution
  • Criminal activity on a property
  • Maintaining dangerous or dilapidated buildings
  • Obstructing public highways or waterways

1.4. Unlike most other criminal offenses, a prosecutor does not have to prove the defendant had any criminal intent or purpose. Simply committing the act – even if unintentional – is enough.

2. Penalties for Violating Penal Code 372 PC

2.1. Public nuisance under this code section is a misdemeanor offense in California. The crime is punishable by:

  • Up to 6 months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

2.2. However, the prosecutor can choose to file PC 372 charges as a California wobbler offense if:

  • The defendant acted maliciously, and
  • The nuisance seriously injures someone’s comfort, repose, health or safety.

2.3. If charged as a wobbler, public nuisance carries a potential county jail sentence of up to one (1) year. The fine remains up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).

3. Legal Defenses to Public Nuisance Allegations

3.1. There are several legal defenses that a skilled California criminal defense attorney could use to contest Penal Code 372 charges. These include (but are not limited to):

  • You didn’t commit the act
    Maybe someone else created the alleged nuisance. Or perhaps you didn’t actually commit the act in question.
  • No harm to the public
    If your actions didn’t negatively impact the community, it is not a public nuisance.
  • Necessity
    You violated the law because you needed to prevent a greater harm from occurring.
  • Right to make noise
    You have a legal right to make noise during certain times of day.
  • Selective enforcement
    You were unfairly targeted for prosecution while others committing the same acts were not.

3.2. Given the complexity of this area of law, the best defense is to have an experienced California criminal defense lawyer look at the details of your case. He/she can then decide which strategy gives you the best chance at an acquittal or dismissal.

4. Penal Code 373a PC – Chronic Public Nuisance

4.1. Penal Code 373a PC California’s “chronic public nuisance” law. It makes it a crime for any property owner to permit property under his/her control to be used for any of the following activities on 2 or more occasions within a 6-month period:

  • Illegal gambling
  • Prostitution
  • Unlawful sale, manufacture, or possession of dangerous drugs
  • Consumption of alcohol by minors
  • Illegal weapon or ammunition activity
  • Criminal profiteering activity

4.2. Chronic public nuisance under PC 373a is a misdemeanor in California, punishable by up to 6 months in county jail. But it becomes a wobbler if any of the activities result in injury or death. Then it is punishable by up to 3 years in jail.

5. Civil vs. Criminal Nuisance

5.1. In addition to criminal penalties, California law also allows for civil public nuisance lawsuits. These can be brought by a prosecuting attorney, city attorney, or neighbor harmed by the nuisance.

5.2. If successful, these lawsuits can result in court orders to stop the nuisance activity. The court can also award monetary damages to plaintiffs for harm suffered. And civil penalties and attorneys’ fees may be imposed as well.

5.3. PC 372 criminal charges are separate from civil nuisance lawsuits. Prosecutors need only prove a violation of California’s criminal laws. But civil plaintiffs must show actual damage or harm.

6. Fighting Public Nuisance Charges with an Attorney

6.1. Public nuisance allegations can have serious consequences. If convicted, you face jail time, fines, and a criminal record. Additionally, many professions – such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and lawyers – can lose their professional licenses if convicted of a crime of moral turpitude like PC 372.

6.2. This is where an experienced California criminal defense attorney can help. He/she will analyze the evidence, explain your rights and options, and fight to get your case dismissed or reduced to an infraction. With an aggressive legal defense, many of these charges never make it past the negotiation table.

6.3. And for non-citizens charged with violating Penal Code 372 or 373a, an attorney can help minimize the odds it leads to deportation. Fighting to get the case dismissed or reduced to a non-deportable offense may preserve your right to live in the United States.