Price Gouging Law & Defense
PC 396 Crimes
Information on the crime of price gouging is found at California penal code section 396. In essence, price gouging means to to charge an extraordinary high charge for certain basic goods or services during a declared state of emergency. An extraordinary high charge is amount greater than ten percent above the price just before the state of emergency was declared.
PC 396(a): It is illegal to greatly increase prices for essential goods and services during a state of emergency or local emergency, including, but not limited to, an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, drought, plant or animal infestation or disease, or other natural or man-made disaster...when a declared state of emergency or local emergency results in abnormal disruptions of the market, the public interest requires that excessive and unjustified increases in the prices of essential consumer goods and services be prohibited (Abbrev.).
PC 396(b): Price gouging is prohibited when there is a proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor, or upon the declaration of a local emergency by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make that declaration in any county, city, or city and county, and for a period of 30 days following that proclamation or declaration (Abbrev).
Note: Price gouging does not apply to all goods and services. Generally, price gouging applies to goods and services related to emergency cleanup, emergency supplies (i.e. water, toilet paper, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, soaps, diapers, and more), medical supplies (i.e. medications, bandages, isoproply alcohol, etc.), heating oil, building materials, services related to transportation, some types of housing (i.e. rents, campsites, etc.), food, storage, gasoline, and more.
Time period: Price gouging only applies during a declared state of emergency and in some cases may last from 30 to 180 days after the declared state of emergency has ended.
Price Increase: Prices for enumerated emergency goods and services may usually be increased in relation to market demand in response to an emergency; however, price increases can not exceed more than ten percentage above the amount charged just prior to the declaration of the state of emergency (or by an amount determined by the authority that declared the state of emergency).
Note: PC 386(a) and 396(b) is lengthy and complicated. The above summary is provided for that purpose only...a summary. If you are charged with price gouging, or PC 396(a) or 396(b), contact a criminal defense lawyer without delay to learn in more depth this complicated area of law.
Jail: PC 396(b) is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of price gouging, the defendant could face up to one year in jail and up to a $10,000 fine.
Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is period of supervision in lieu of jail. Probation sentences are allowed in PC 396(b) some cases. Probation sentences can include a sentence of work release or house arrest as an alternative to jail. Probation sentences for PC 396(b) are monitored by the court (as opposed to a probation officer).
In addition to the penalties listed above, if found guilty of price gouging, the defendant could face additional punishments, including: civil lawsuits (unfair business practices lawsuits), denial of entry into the United States (for non US citizens), professional licensing consequences (i.e. doctors, dentists, lawyers, therapist, and more).
Common defenses to PC 396(b) include: insufficient evidence, statute of limitations (one year from the date of sale or charge for service), illegal search and seizure, coerced confessions, and more.
If you have been arrested or charged with price gouging, or PC 396(b), contact out criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation. Our attorneys are ready to answer your questions and assist you any day of the week. Call today!.
Quick Legal Reference
Crime: Price Gouging
Code: PC 396(b)
Wobbler: No. PC 396(b) is not a wobbler. This means that PC 396(b) is only charged as a misdemeanor.
Incarceration: PC 396(b) jail sentence up to 1 year.
Probation: Probation may be available in PC 396(b) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.
Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.
Strike: PC 396(b) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.
Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.
Bail: $5,000 (San Bernardino County)