SB-192 “Posse Comitatus” Law Set to Repeal Penal Code section 150 and Penal Code section 1550

On August 30, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom approved SB-192.[1] SB-192 legislation officially repeals two statutes that are currently prosecutable under the California Penal Code. SB-192 will repeal Penal Code section 150 and Penal Code section 1550.

As the law currently stands, an able-bodied person of 18 years of age or older can be prosecuted for violating Penal Code section 150 and Penal Code section 1550 if they neglect or refuse to join the posse comitatus (“power of the county”) by neglecting or refusing to aid and assist in making an arrest, retaking into custody a person who has escaped from arrest or imprisonment, or preventing a breach of the peace or the commission of any criminal offense, after being lawfully required by a uniformed peace officer or a judge. These offenses were deemed misdemeanor offenses and violators were subject to a fine of not less than $50 and no more than $1000.

Penal Code section 150 was originally enacted in 1872 and was enacted at a time when peace officers had limited resources. The statues were enacted with the intention of requiring citizens to assist law enforcement, upon request, with effectuating an arrest. According to the Senate Committee on Public Safety, court records show that the law has not been invoked in the last 50 years.

Further, according to the Senate Committee on Public Safety, “the legislation has roots even farther back in other parts of the United States where federal marshals formed posses to hunt and recapture escaped slaves.” Thus, according to our current Legislature, this “‘posse comitatus’” law is a vestige of a bygone era, and when invoked, subjects our citizens to an untenable moral dilemma: join and potentially put one’s life at risk, or refuse and become a criminal. SB 192 does away with this unnecessary penalty and helps bring California law into the 21st century.”

As society advances, the Legislature is often tasked with reviewing and updating laws that no longer serve a valid interest or purpose. It appears that our California Legislature no longer believes that Penal Code section 150 is necessary and has taken steps towards updating our laws.


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