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Illegal Junkers & Other Strange Charges

Three interesting charges have appeared in the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Bookings lately, all of which have prompted a bit of cyber-skepticism about why a person would be arrested on such charges.

Two people in recent months have been charged with “Use of offensive words,” which would appear to be a violation of the Constitution’s Free Speech amendment. However, California Penal Section 415 (Disturbing the peace) has the following sub-provision: “(3): Any person who uses offensive words in a public place which are inherently likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction.”

This is known as the "fighting words" exception to free speech. Screaming extremely nasty things at your neighbor which might realistically cause them to try to harm you is illegal. According to one on-line legal website, however, “Simply shouting obscenities or insults at a peace officer does not amount to disturbing the peace.” According to a court ruling, however, an individual isn’t immune from prosecution for “use of offensive words” simply because the person he addresses is an officer. On the other hand, if the peace disturber might cause “an immediate violent reaction,” from the “peace” officer, that’s not only illegal, but really, really dumb.

Another charge that caught a few people’s eyes recently was “Bicycling under the influence.”

Yes, that’s illegal too. California Vehicle Code section 21200.5: “Notwithstanding Section 21200, it is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.”

You can be put through the same breathalyzer/blood test drill as a drunk driver. And “…A conviction of a violation of this section shall be punished by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250).”

The third interesting charge we saw a couple of weeks ago was “Junker Buy [sic] Wire.”

California Penal Code Section 496a(a): “Every person who, being a dealer in or collector of junk, metals or secondhand materials, or the agent, employee, or representative of such dealer or collector, buys or receives any wire, cable, copper, lead, solder, mercury, iron or brass which he knows or reasonably should know is ordinarily used by or ordinarily belongs to a railroad or other transportation, telephone, telegraph, gas, water or electric light company or county, city, city and county or other political subdivision of this state engaged in furnishing public utility service without using due diligence to ascertain that the person selling or delivering the same has a legal right to do so, is guilty of criminally receiving such property, and is punishable, by imprisonment in a state prison, or in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars ($250), or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

Apparently this has to do with preventing increasingly valuable recyclables in buildings under construction from theft. But we’re not sure why ordinary “receiving stolen property” isn’t good enough for this. Whatever it means, take our word for it: don’t “buy wire” from someone who looks suspicious. You’d be an illegal junker.

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