Penal Code 415.5 PC | Disturbing the Peace at Schools

Penal Code 415.5 PC | Disturbing the Peace at Schools

Getting in trouble at school can be scary, but it’s important to know your rights. Penal Code 415.5 PC is the California law that makes it illegal to disturb the peace at public schools, community colleges, state universities, or private universities. Let’s break down what this law means and what defenses you might have if you’re accused of violating it.

What is Disturbing the Peace?

Disturbing the peace is a broad term that can cover lots of behaviors. Basically, it means doing something that violates public order by being offensive, threatening, loud, or disruptive. Under PC 415.5, this specifically refers to disturbing the peace on school property or at school activities.

Some examples of disturbing the peace at school could include:

  • Getting into a loud argument or fight
  • Making unreasonable noise (like blasting music from your car)
  • Using offensive language or threats
  • Blocking access to school facilities
  • Trying to incite others to violence or illegal acts

As you can see, this covers a lot of ground. It’s a very broad law that gives school administrators and police a lot of leeway to punish behavior they see as disruptive.

What are the Penalties?

Violating PC 415.5 is a misdemeanor offense. If your convicted, possible penalties can include:

  • Up to 90 days in county jail
  • A fine of up to $400
  • Probation

In addition to criminal penalties, you may also face discipline from your school like suspension or expulsion. These administrative punishments are separate from any criminal case.

Legal Defenses

If you’re accused of disturbing the peace, working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer is important. They can evaluate the evidence against you and build a strong defense. Here are some common defenses in these cases:

You didn’t actually violate the law

One defense is that your actions didn’t actually rise to the level of disturbing the peace. For example, maybe you were having a heated debate with another student, but it didn’t disrupt school activities or threaten anyone. Your lawyer could argue you were exercising your free speech rights and did not break the law.

The law is unconstitutionally vague

Since disturbing the peace covers so much conduct, the law risks being overly broad or vague. Your attorney may argue the law violates due process because it doesn’t give enough notice about what conduct is illegal. For example, in In re Brown, the California Supreme Court said a school rule against “inappropriate speech” was unconstitutionally vague.

You were falsely accused

If a teacher or student falsely accuses you of misconduct, your attorney can challenge their credibility. For example, if there are no other witnesses or evidence to corroborate the allegations against you.

You were illegally searched

School officials need reasonable suspicion to legally search you or your property. If evidence was obtained through an illegal search, your lawyer can file a motion to suppress it. This prevents it from being used against you.

Staying Out of Trouble

While everyone makes mistakes, here are some tips to avoid accusations of disturbing the peace at school:

  • Watch your language and volume – don’t shout or use threats/profanity
  • Walk away from confrontations – don’t let arguments escalate
  • Comply with reasonable requests from staff
  • Be respectful of other students
  • Don’t bring weapons, drugs, alcohol on campus

School should be a positive environment for learning and growth. But if you do get accused of misconduct, stay calm and be polite. Contact a lawyer right away to protect your rights. With an experienced legal defense, many of these cases can be resolved favorably.


In re Brown, 9 Cal. 3d 612 (1973).