The Legal Consequences of Public Fighting


Street fighting, barroom brawls, and throwing a punch at a guy who steals your parking space. In the movies, these things never seem like a big deal. The worst thing that ever seems to happen to the characters who are involved in public fighting is that they spend a few hours in jail.

Sadly, real-life doesn’t mirror the movies. California has public fighting laws. If you’re busted for public fighting in California, you’ll face serious consequences.

What is Public Fighting?

California considers public fighting to be a disturbing the peace crime. The issue is addressed in the Penal Code 415. When you read PC 415 you’ll discover that it doesn’t take much for an officer to decide that you’re in violation of the law.

PC 415 states that you can be charged with disturbing the peace if you’ve:

  • Challenged another person to a fight while in a public place
  • If you get into a fight with a person while in a public place
  • If you’ve deliberately and maliciously used a loud noise to disturb someone
  • If you’re caught using malicious language or words that are designed to hurt or provoke someone while you were in a public place

What is a Public Place?

Most people know that bars, schools, government buildings, and sporting complexes are public places. The problem is that some people don’t know about other areas, such as a lawn, driveway, or cornfield. Can you be charged with disturbing the peace if you get into a fight while standing in someone’s front yard?

According to, a public place is, “A public place is generally an indoor or outdoor area, whether privately or publicly owned, to which the public have access by right or by invitation, expressed or implied, whether by payment of money or not, but not a place when used exclusively by one or more individuals for a private gathering or other personal purpose.”

The Consequences of Fighting in Public

The consequences of fighting in public are difficult to determine because in addition to the disturbing the peace charge, additional charges, such as assault, can also be filed against you. However, according to PC 415, if your public fight only resulted in a disturbing the peace charge, the potential consequences can include:

  • Serving up to 90 days in a county jail
  • Having to pay a $400 fine

It is worth noting that public fighting should only result in a disturbing the peace charge if you were an instigator. You shouldn’t be found guilty if you acted in self-defense.

California states that you can use self-defense in a public fighting charge if:

  • You reasonably anticipated that you anticipated suffering bodily harm
  • You honestly believed that protecting yourself required the use of force
  • You didn’t use any more force than what was absolutely necessary to defend yourself

You can claim that you acted in “self-defense” when you were trying to protect someone else from harm.