California Penal Code Section 402(a) PC: Sightseeing at the Scene of an Emergency

1. Definition and Elements of the Crimeemergency scene

Whenever an accident or serious emergency occurs, there is always a tendency to want to see what is happening. However, someone’s presence at the scene of an emergency can often impede the ability of emergency responders to perform their duties. As a result, sightseeing at the scene of an emergency is a criminal offense under California Penal Code Section 402(a) PC, and those convicted can face serious consequences.

In order to prove that a defendant is guilty of sightseeing at the scene of an emergency, a prosecutor must be able to prove the following elements:

  1. The defendant went to or stopped at the scene of an emergency
  2. The defendant stopped for the purpose of viewing the scene or the activities of police officers, firefighters, emergency medical or other emergency personnel
  3. The defendant knew or should have known that the officers or emergency personnel were engaged in the performance of their duties
  4. AND the defendant’s act thereby impeded police officers, firefighters, emergency medical, or other emergency personnel in the performance of their duties in coping with the emergency.
2. Related Offenses

Similar and related offenses include the following:

  1. Falsely Reporting an Emergency, Fire or Crime - California Penal Code Section 148.3 PC, California Penal Code Section 148.4 PC and California Penal Code Section 148.5 PC
  2. Battery on a Peace or Police Officer - California Penal Code Section 243(b) PC and California Penal Code Section 243(c)(2) PC
  3. Refusal to Disperse - California Penal Code Section 409 PC and California Penal Code Section 416 PC
3. Examples

A man is driving one day when he notices a serious car accident on the side of the road. Instead of driving along, the man stops his car in the middle of the lane and watches the firefighters and other emergency personnel as they try to rescue a man stuck in his turned-over vehicle. Because the man is blocking traffic, other emergency personnel are unable to respond to the accident scene in a timely fashion. This man could be charged with sightseeing at the scene of an accident in violation of California Penal Code Section 402(a) PC.

In another example, a man is driving in traffic when he witnesses a major collision occur in front of him. The man pulls over and stops his car and goes to try to help the victims, as there are no emergency personnel present. Eventually, police, firefighters and ambulance arrive at the scene. This man would not be guilty of sightseeing at the scene of an emergency as he stopped his vehicle in order to provide assistance to the victims.

4. Defenses to Sightseeing at the Scene of an Emergency

There may be situations where a defendant unintentionally finds himself or herself at an accident scene and is unable to leave. In these situations, the defendant would not be guilty because he or she did not intentionally stay at the scene.

In addition, if the defendant did not impede emergency personnel, he or she would not be criminally liable under the statute. It is not illegal to observe an emergency scene as long as the defendant does not impede the ability of emergency personnel to do their jobs.

5. Penalties

Sightseeing at the scene of an emergency is a misdemeanor offense. A defendant convicted of this crime can be sentenced to up to six months in jail and hefty court fines. The court may also require the defendant to complete community service or community labor as a condition of probation.

6. Criminal Defense for Sightseeing at the Scene of an Emergency Cases

If you are facing charges for sightseeing at the scene of an emergency, it is critical that you meet with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer right away. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kraut understands how best to fight allegations of this nature. Mr. Kraut realizes the serious consequences and stigma that a misdemeanor conviction carries, and works hard to ensure his clients receive the absolute best defense possible.

For more information about sightseeing at the scene of an emergency, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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