California law prohibits both engaging in acts of prostitution and soliciting, meaning requesting, encouraging, or attempting to pay for, acts of prostitution. In the common parlance, this means that both prostitutes and “Johns” can be prosecuted under Penal Code Section 647(b).
Many prostitutes have “pimps” who arrange their business affairs and handle all the financial issues.
In order to get convicted of PC 647(b), the prosecutor has to be able to prove that you requested that another person engage in the act of prostitution, had intent to actually engage in the sex act, and the other person received the request.
These must be some type of overt act, such as the discussion of money in exchange for sex, or withdrawing money from an ATM for sex.
It should be noted that a sexual act includes sexual intercourse or any type of lewd conduct. A lewd act means any act involving touching the genitals, buttocks, female breast with the intent to arouse or sexual gratification.
In California, prostitution and soliciting to engage in prostitution are both misdemeanor crime that are punishable by up to six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. A conviction will not result in a requirement to register as a sex offender.
To give readers a better understanding on California laws on prostitution and solicitation, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a review below.
Definition of Penal Code 647(b) Prostitution
An act of prostitution, also known as a commercial sex act, is defined as willfully:
- Soliciting an in an act of prostitution
- Engaging in an act of prostitution
- Making an agreement to engage in prostitution
Clearly, a sex act includes engaging in sexual intercourse or any other lewd act with another person in exchange for money or any other valuable compensation.
As stated above, a lewd act is in turn defined as any act that involves touching the genitals, buttocks, or female breast of another person with the intent to sexually arouse or gratify either the defendant or the other party.
Solicitation of prostitution is the flip side: requesting that someone else perform an act of prostitution with the intent to engage in the act of prostitution with that person.
This last distinction is important because it separates the much more serious crimes of pimping or pandering from solicitation of prostitution.
If the defendant encourages the prostitute to engage in acts of prostitution with a third-party, they may be considered a pimp or panderer rather than a “John” who is guilty of solicitation only.
Penalties for PC 647(b) Prostitution
A violation of Penal Code Section 647(b) is a misdemeanor under California law. It is also a “priorable” offense, meaning the associated penalties increase as a matter of statutory law with second and subsequent offenses under the same subdivision.
A first offense for either prostitution or solicitation of prostitution is punishable by:
- Up to six months in county jail
- A fine up to $1,000
While the maximum penalty in terms of county jail time remains the same for subsequent convictions, California law introduces mandatory minimum jail punishments as well.
Subsequent violations of Penal Code 647(b) carries the following penalties:
- Second offense - mandatory 45-day jail sentence
- Third or more offenses – mandatory minimum 90-day jail sentence
If the offense occurred when the defendant was in a vehicle at the time and within 1000 feet of a residential structure, there is an additional punishment of either 30 days of driver's license suspension, or 6 months of driver's license restriction.
Related California Offenses for Penal Code 647(b)
- Penal Code 647(a) – Lewd conduct in public
- Penal Code 314 – Indecent exposure
- Penal Code 266h – Pimping
- Penal Code 266i – Pandering
- Penal Code 653.22 – Loitering to commit prostitution
- Penal Code 653.23 – Supervise of aid a prostitute
Fighting Penal Code 647(b) Prostitution Charges
Issues of proof naturally arise as to the intent of either the prostitute or the “John” in prosecutions under Penal Code 647(b). Some common defenses for prostitution charges include:
- Lack of intent
- Insufficient evidence
- Police entrapment
The defendant prostitute may claim, for example, that the parties were simply interested in having sexual relations, but that money or other compensation was unrelated.
Along the same lines, a defendant “John” may claim that they were simply propositioning the other party with no knowledge they were a prostitute and no intent for money to be exchanged.
Because of the inherent issue of proof as to the parties' intent, many PC 647(b) charges arise in the context of sting operations conducted by police.
Common prostitution examples
In a common scenario, a defendant will approach a woman on the sidewalk in an area known for prostitution and strike up a conversation.
The woman will elicit statements from the defendant confirming that he is interested in sex and, critically, confirm a price for those services. Immediately, multiple law enforcement officers will surround the defendant and arrest him.
Discovery provided in court will confirm that the woman was in fact an undercover vice officer working a sting operation.
By getting the defendant to confirm the two critical facts necessary for a solicitation prosecution – the proposition to engage in sexual acts and the offer to provide payment therefor – the sting operation forecloses any realistic argument about the defendant's intent.
In other cases, however, the defendant's intent may be truly ambiguous, even in a sting operation context.
There may be issues of understanding between the parties due to a language barrier, cognitive deficit, or other factor which makes it unclear what the defendant was actually agreeing to.
Other common defenses, such as the lack of money in the defendant's wallet, are less successful.
It is not necessary that the defendant actually be able to pay the price agreed to with the prostitute, or undercover officer posing as a prostitute, in order to complete an offense of solicitation of prostitution under Penal Code Section 647(b).
Criminal Defense for Prostitution in Los Angeles
If you, or someone else you know, has been arrested for or is charged with either prostitution or solicitation of prostitution under Section 647(b), contact our team of experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys for an initial consultation.
Through the process of prefiling intervention, it may be possible to avoid a formal filing in court or secure placement in a diversionary program which can allow the defendant to earn a dismissal of charges.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm with a track record of success in all types of sexual-related cases.
We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our main office is adjacent to the Van Nuys Courthouse at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our firm for a consultation at (310) 328-3776.