Posted on April 22, 2015

California P.C. § 402(a): Going to the Scene of an Emergency (Sightseeing)

California Penal Code § 402(a) Defined

In California, P.C. § 402(a) provides that “every person who goes to the scene of an emergency… for the purpose of viewing the scene or the activities of police officers… coping with the emergency in the course of their duties during the time it is necessary for emergency vehicles or those personnel to be at the scene of the emergency or to be moving to or from the scene of the emergency for the purpose of protecting lives or property, unless it is part of the duties of that person’s employment to view that scene or activities, and thereby impedes police officers … in the performance of their duties in coping with the emergency, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Elements of the Crime

In order for someone to be found guilty of impeding police officers at a crime scene, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Defendant went to the scene of an emergency
  2. Defendant intended to view the scene or activities of emergency personnel
  3. Defendant impede emergency personnel who were coping with the emergency

Legal Defenses

  1. There was no on-going emergency at the time the prosecutor and police are alleging you interfered with law enforcement rescue efforts. Perhaps the emergency situation had long been lapsed or substantially dissipated leaving a calmer investigative environment for police officers.
  2. You did not have the intentions of viewing the scene of emergency personnel or the situation. Instead, one may simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time. For instance, walking through a scene to get home and inadvertently invading a crime scene area.
  3. You did not impede police officers. The term “impede” is loosely defined to mean obstruct, delay, or prohibit police officers from an on-going emergency.
  4. If you were employed by the media investigating the occurrence, you may be able to assert an affirmative defense that you were acting within the scope of your employment and should be barred from prosecution.

Example

Dan was a school teacher grading papers in the faculty lounge. A shooting occurred in the parking lot and police responded. As a result, police officers quarantined the school for hours to investigate the shooting. After 2 hours, police officers allow all individuals on school grounds to vacate. Dan walked from the lounge to his car in the parking lot to go home. He inadvertently walked into a restricted area being investigated by police officers. Dan was immediately arrested and charged with P.C. § 402(a). In this case, Dan will not be guilty of this crime because the shooting occurred hours previously and there was no on-going emergency. Additionally, Dan did not invade the crime scene area for the purpose of viewing the scene or activities of emergency personnel, but rather to get to his car and go home.

Punishment

  • Three Years of Probation
  • Up to 6 Months in County Jail
  • Counseling Class / Community Service
  • Court Fines and/or Restitution

Contact Us for a Free Confidential Consultation

For more information, or if you have been arrested for sightseeing at an emergency, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney John Rogers at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers located at 1801 Century Park East, 24th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Call 877-888-9820 for a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.

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