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The Penal Code defines criminal offenses. This program will not attempt to cover all of them, but will cover many of the most common ones. The Penal Code classifies crimes into three categories: Infractions, Misdemeanors, and Felonies.


Infractions are offenses that are punishable only by a modest monetary fine. There is normally no jail sentence imposed for committing an offense, which is defined as an infraction, and the person committing the offense is normally cited at the scene in a fashion similar to the issuance of a traffic citation.  The offender is normally not taken into custody or arrested but merely detained for purposes of issuing the citation.  For the most part, infractions are reserved for specified traffic violations such as speeding (California Vehicle Code Section 40000.1), though other statutes impose infraction penalties as well (smoking on public transportation is a violation of California Health and Safety Code Section 25949.8 and littering on public property is a violation of California Penal Code Section 374.4.) Because most infractions occur on public property, public highways and roadways, or in areas not routinely patrolled by private security, most security guard/proprietary private security officers will not be confronted with situations involving the violations of laws which carry infraction penalties. Nor are private security guards/proprietary private security officers normally authorized to issue citations, commonly known as notices to appear in court. For this reason, enforcement of laws involving infractions are usually reserved for law enforcement officers.


Misdemeanors are offenses that are punishable by a fine and/or term in the county jail. The following two conditions must exist in order for you to arrest a person on a misdemeanor charge:

  1. The misdemeanor must have been attempted or committed.
  1. It must have taken place (happened) in your presence.

The following sections are common misdemeanors (PEN stands for Penal Code):

  • ASSAULT (240 PEN) An unlawful attempt coupled with the present ability to commit a violent injury upon the person of another.
  • BATTERY (242 PEN) Any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon another person.
  • DISTURBING THE PEACE (415 PEN) Unlawfully fighting in a public place or challenging to fight; malicious and willful disturbances of another by loud and unreasonable noise; using offensive words to provoke a violent reaction.
  • INDECENT EXPOSURE (314 PEN) The act of exposing the person or private parts thereof in any public place where other persons may be offended.
  • LITTERING (374 PEN) Throwing waste matter in a place other than designated containers.
  • PETTY THEFT (488 PEN) The taking of property of a value of $950.00 or less (this is often the case in shoplifting)
  • TRESPASSING (602 PEN) Entering posted property without Damaging or destroying property, or refusing to leave when asked by the owner or his agent.
  • VANDALISM (594 PEN) Maliciously defacing, damaging, or destroying property.


A felony is a more serious offense that is punishable by a sentence of death, imprisonment in a jail or prison, and/or a fine.

The following two conditions must exist in order to arrest a person on a felony charge:

  1. The felony must have been committed.
  2. A reasonable cause must exist to believe that the person being arrested actually committed the crime. Such reasonable cause must be based on evidence linking the person to the crime. Examples of such evidence may include physical evidence such as articles of clothing belonging to the suspect and left at the scene of the crime, or testimonial evidence such as observations by the security guard/proprietary private security officer or by other persons which are told to the security guard/proprietary private security officer in which the suspect was observed committing the crime.

The following sections are common felonies (PEN stands for Penal Code):

  • ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON (245 PEN) Assault of a person by another with a deadly weapon or instrument or by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.
  • ARSON (451 PEN) The willful and unlawful setting of a fire.
  • GRAND THEFT (487 PEN) The taking of money, labor, or real or personal property of a value exceeding $950.00 or the taking of property from the person of another.
  • BURGLARY (459 PEN) The entering of the residence or property of another with the intent to commit grand theft, petty theft, or any felony.
  • KIDNAPPING (207 PEN) Taking and transporting a person against his
  • ROBBERY (211 PEN) By force or intimidation, taking personal property from a person or from the immediate presence of a person against that person’s will.
  • RAPE (261 PEN) Forcing sexual intercourse.
  • MANSLAUGHTER (192 PEN) The unlawful killing of another human being.  Includes voluntary, involuntary, or vehicular manslaughter.
  • MURDER (187 PEN) The unlawful killing of another human being with malice and forethought.