California Penal Code 409.5 PC is the statute making it illegal to enter an emergency area without permission, a location closed by law enforcement due to a disaster such as a storm, car accident, crime scene, etc. In emergencies, when public safety is at stake, authorities are allowed by law to close off certain unsafe areas.
If you intentionally enter a closed area and refuse to leave as instructed, then you could be charged with violating Penal Code 409.5 PC unauthorized entry into a closed emergency area. If convicted, you could face up to six months in county jail and pay a fine.
PC 409.5 says, “(a) Whenever a menace to the public health or safety is created by a calamity including a flood, storm, fire, earthquake, explosion, accident, or other disaster, officers of the Department of the California Highway Patrol, police departments… employee of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection designated a peace officer by subdivision (g) of Section 830.2, an officer or employee of the Department of Parks and Recreation designated a peace officer, an officer or employee of the Department of Fish and Wildlife designated a peace officer, and a publicly employed full-time lifeguard or marine safety officer while acting in a supervisory position in the performance of their official duties, may close the area where the menace exists for the duration of the menace…If the calamity creates an immediate menace to public health.”
(b) Officers of the Department of the California Highway Patrol, police departments, marshal's office or sheriff's office, officers of the Department of Fish and Wildlife designated as peace officers by subdivision (e) of Section 830.2, or officers of the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection designated as peace officers by subdivision (g) of Section 830.2 may close the immediate area surrounding any emergency field command post or any other command post activated for the purpose of abating any calamity enumerated in this section or any riot or other civil disturbance to any and all unauthorized persons pursuant to the conditions outlined in this section whether or not the field command post or other command post is located near the actual calamity or riot or other civil disturbance.”
What Does the Law Say?
Under Penal Code 409.5, you cannot enter or remain in a closed emergency area without consent. A “closed emergency area” is any property deemed unsafe or off-limits to the public by police, firefighters, or other public officials who are authorized to close it, which includes the following:
- Local police and sheriff's department;
- Fire department;
- First responders;
- California Highway Patrol;
- Department of Forestry and Fire Protection;
- California Department of Fish and Game.
PC 409.5 says these authorities can close an area when “a calamity including a flood, storm, fire, earthquake, explosion, accident, or other disaster creates a menace to public health or safety.”
A prosecutor must prove police or other officials closed the area to unauthorized persons and that you willfully entered the closed area and remained after being told to leave.
To convict you, they must also prove an authorized person closed off the area by using visible markers such as ropes or setting up a command post. The key factors are that you “willfully and knowingly” entered the closed area and refused to leave after being told to do so.
Penal Code 409.5 lists situations where people who enter closed emergency areas are exempt from prosecution. It includes members of the press and people who are issued a livestock pass document to access their livestock in the event of fires or other natural disasters.
What Are the Related Laws?
California has several laws that are related to Penal Code 209.5 PC unauthorized entry into a closed emergency area, such as the following:
- Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing;
- Penal Code 601 PC – aggravated trespassing;
- Penal Code 148 PC – resisting arrest;
- Penal Code 416 PC – failure to disperse.
What Are the PC 409.5 Penalties?
Penal Code 409.5 PC is a misdemeanor that carries up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1000. However, a judge would typically grant probation rather than jail time.
Suppose your unauthorized presence in the emergency area resulted in someone's injury or interfered with the disaster response. In that case, you could face other more serious charges.
What Are the PC 409.5 Defenses?
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers might be able to challenge one or more of the elements of the crime.
Maybe we can argue that the closed area was not marked as required by law. Suppose authorities did not clearly close the area with guards, markers, or ropes. In that case, you should be able to avoid a conviction.
Maybe we can argue that your actions were not willful. Perhaps we can show extreme circumstances were preventing you from knowing the area was closed.
Maybe we can argue that you did not hear the police telling you to leave the area. Perhaps we can say that you did not willfully disregard the orders of authorities.
Maybe we can argue that you did leave the area when asked, but the police believed you did not go quickly enough. You can contact us for a free case evaluation via phone or the contact form. Cron, Israels & Stark has offices in Los Angeles, CA.