Powerful Defense,
Exceptional Trial Skills

Limits on Free Speech and the First Amendment: California Unlawful Assembly Laws

On Behalf of | May 6, 2024 | Firm News

In the realm of criminal law, it’s essential for both legal professionals and individuals to have a clear understanding of statutes that govern behavior and potential consequences. Often times during periods of political unrest, groups of individuals may gather to express discontent or approval of a particular viewpoint. This can be described as peaceful protests, riots, boycotts, etc. Law enforcement may be required to intervene to dispurse crowds or gatherings deemed unlawful. One such statute within California’s Penal Code that comes into play is Section 407, which addresses unlawful assembly and the refusal to disperse.

What is California Penal Code Section 407?

California Penal Code Section 407 defines unlawful assembly as the gathering of two or more individuals for the purpose of engaging in an unlawful act or behaving in a violent, boisterous, or tumultuous manner, whether or not the original purpose of the assembly was lawful.

Key Elements of Section 407:

  • Assembling with Unlawful Intent: The statute requires that individuals gather with the intent to commit an unlawful act or engage in disorderly conduct.
  • Remaining After Warning: Individuals who assemble unlawfully must be warned by a public officer to disperse. Failure to disperse after being warned constitutes a violation of the law.
  • Misdemeanor Offense: Violating Section 407 is considered a misdemeanor offense in California, punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

Additionally, other related laws and statutes may come into play when addressing unlawful assembly, including:

  1. California Penal Code Section 408: This statute addresses the offense of remaining at the scene of a riot after being ordered to disperse by a law enforcement officer. It carries similar penalties to Section 407.
  2. California Penal Code Section 409: This section pertains to the refusal to disperse from an unlawful assembly after being lawfully warned to do so by a public officer. It also constitutes a misdemeanor offense.

These laws are aimed at maintaining public order and safety by prohibiting gatherings that pose a threat of violence, property damage, or disruption to the community. Violating these laws can result in criminal charges and legal consequences, underscoring the importance of understanding and complying with California’s unlawful assembly statutes.

Importance of Legal Representation:

Given the criminal nature of the charges under Sections 407, 408, and 409, individuals facing allegations of unlawful assembly or refusal to disperse must seek competent legal representation. Here’s why:

  1. Pre-File Representation: Pre-file representation refers to legal representation provided to individuals who are under investigation but have not yet been formally charged with a crime. An attorney can communicate with law enforcement officials and prosecutors on your behalf.
  2. Understanding Your Rights: A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights under the law and how they apply to your specific situation.
  3. Building a Strong Defense: An experienced lawyer will assess the circumstances surrounding your case and develop a strategic defense tailored to achieve the best possible outcome.
  4. Navigating the Legal Process: The legal process can be complex and intimidating. Having a knowledgeable advocate by your side can help navigate proceedings and ensure your rights are protected at every stage.
  5. Negotiating with Prosecutors: Your attorney can engage in negotiations with prosecutors to potentially have charges reduced or dismissed, or to secure a favorable plea agreement if it is in your best interest.
  6. Motion for Judicial Diversion (PC 1001.95): California Penal Code Section 1001.95 is part of the state’s pretrial diversion program for qualifying misdemeanor offenses. It allows defendant’s charged with certain non-violent misdemeanor offenses to participate in a diversion program instead of facing traditional criminal prosecution.


California’s Penal Code addresses the criminal offense of unlawful assembly and refusal to disperse. Understanding these laws are crucial for both legal professionals and individuals alike. If you or someone you know is facing charges under Sections 407, 408, or 409 don’t hesitate to seek the guidance of a reputable criminal defense attorney. At the Law Office of Ari S. Lieberman, we are dedicated to providing aggressive representation and fighting for the rights of our clients in San Diego County and the surrounding areas.