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Wearing a Mask or Disguise to Evade Police - Penal Code 185 PC

Posted by Sam Israels | Apr 15, 2023

California Penal Code 185 PC makes it illegal to wear a mask, false whiskers, or another disguise to evade police while or after committing the crime.

Penal Code 185 - Wearing a Mask or Disguise to Evade Police

Wearing a mask or disguise by itself is not unlawful. Still, if you wear one to avoid being detected by police, you can be charged under this statute, making it illegal to wear a mask to escape after being charged with, arrested for, or convicted of a crime.

To prove your guilt, a prosecutor must prove all the elements of the crime, including that you wore a mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise to evade discovery while committing a public offense. False whiskers mean a disguise, like a fake beard or mustache.

PC 185 says, “It's unlawful for anyone to wear any mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise (whether complete or partial) for the purpose of (1) evading or escaping discovery, recognition, or identification in the commission of any public offense, or (2) concealment, flight, or escape when charged with, arrested for or convicted of any public offense.”  

If convicted of this crime, you face six months in county jail and any sentence incurred by the initial crime. Let's review this state law further below.

What Does the Law Say?

Under PC 185, it's illegal to put on a "mask, false whiskers, or any personal disguise, whether complete or partial, for any of the following purposes:

  • conceal your identity;
  • avoid discovery during or after the commission of a crime;
  • as a means of hiding or escaping after being arrested, or
  • charged or convicted of a crime.

The intent is crucial in proving this crime because wearing a mask alone is not illegal. However, to prove that you are guilty, the prosecution has to prove that you did so with the specific intent to avoid being recognized or apprehended.

Further, this crime depends on the commission of another crime. For example, suppose you are charged with wearing a mask to evade police but were acquitted of the original charges. In that case, you can't be convicted under PC 185 because you didn't commit the initial crime.

What Are the Related Crimes?

Several California crimes are related to Penal Code 185, wearing a mask or disguise to evade police, including the following:

What Are the Penalties for PC 185?

Violation of PC 185 is a misdemeanor offense, which carries the following penalties:

  • a maximum sentence of 6 months in county jail, and
  • a fine of up to $1000.

The judge can reduce your sentence to summary probation based on the case details, such as completing community service hours.

What Are the Defenses for PC 185?

Our California criminal defense lawyers can use several strategies to fight charges of wearing a mask or disguise to evade police, as discussed below.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyers

Maybe we can argue that you did not have a specific intent to avoid being apprehended. However, recall that the prosecutor has to prove this is an essential element of the crime.

Maybe we can argue that you did not commit the underlying crime. For example, suppose you were wearing a disguise but were acquitted of the initial charges. In that case, you can't be convicted under this statute.

Maybe you weren't wearing a mask or disguise, as the statute explicitly lists masks, false whiskers, and disguises as items used to evade detection and capture. For example, wearing dark sunglasses might not be considered a disguise, especially if the day is sunny.

Perhaps we can negotiate with law enforcement and the prosecution before formally filing criminal charges. Known as a “DA reject.”

If you were charged with violating PC 185, contact us to examine the details and legal options. We offer a free consultation by phone or using the contact form. Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles, California.

About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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