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Is It Illegal to Have Sex in a Car?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Oct 02, 2023

It's something of an archetype in the modern age, the stuff of coming-of-age films as well as real life: two people having sex in a car. The question is, is it illegal, and could you be charged with a crime for doing so?

While no specific statute on California's books directly addresses this issue, a sex act in the car could break several other laws.

Simply put, no criminal laws say it's illegal, but if you engage in sexual conduct in a car in a public area and within public view, you might be charged with a crime.

Is It Illegal to Have Sex in a Car in California?
No specific laws prohibit having sex in a car, but you could potentially face other charges.

Depending on the circumstances, you might be charged with Penal Code 647(a) PC lewd conduct in public, Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure, or Penal Code 647 disorderly conduct.

A public act is generally something that affects people in a community. Thus, whether or not sex is considered a public act affecting people will typically depend on the case details.

Sexual or lewd acts would often be considered public if they occurred in a car in a parking lot or public city park and were visible to people passing by.

Having sex in a car related to prostitution can expose you to other potential charges. California law prohibits both engaging in acts of prostitution and soliciting, meaning requesting, encouraging, or attempting to pay for, acts of prostitution. Penal Code 647(b) PC defines the crime of solicitation of prostitution.

Penal Code 266h and 266 PC defines pimping and pandering. Penal Code 653.22 PC represents loitering to commit prostitution, and Penal Code 653.23 PC defines supervising or aiding a prostitute.

If you engage in sex in a vehicle in the wrong place or circumstance, you could face charges on one or more of these crimes, some of which even require registration as a sex offender if convicted.

Why is Public Visibility the Defining Factor?

As stated above, in California, no law criminalizes explicitly engaging in sexual acts inside a vehicle.

However, that doesn't mean there couldn't be legal consequences. The primary factor that can turn this into a criminal offense is whether it occurs in public view.

If the car is parked on private property and you are not visible from public locations, you commit no crime by having sex in a car.

However, public sex may violate numerous California statutes. If the actions occur in a public area or a place where others can view them—even inside a car—it could result in criminal charges.

Lewd conduct in public means for someone to touch their private parts, or those of another person, for sexual gratification and do so when they know, or should know, that there are people present who could be offended by the touching. Private parts refer to the genitals, the buttocks, or the female breast.

What Crimes Could Result from Sex in a Car in Public View?

If you're arrested for having sex in a car, you could face various criminal charges depending on the circumstances of your case. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Lewd Conduct in Public (Penal Code 647(a) PC): Engaging in any act of lewd or dissolute conduct in a public place, including touching someone's private parts (or your own) for the purposes of sexual gratification. This is the most common offense charged for having sex in a car in public view.
  • Indecent Exposure (Penal Code 314 PC): Indecent exposure refers to intentionally exposing one's private parts in a public area or any place where individuals may be offended or annoyed by such behavior.
  • Solicitation of Prostitution (Penal Code 647(b) PC): While prostitution laws primarily target the exchange of sexual services for money or other forms of compensation, if law enforcement officials have reason to believe that the sex act in the car was part of such an exchange, you may be charged with solicitation or prostitution.
  • Disturbing the Peace (Penal Code 415 PC): Disturbing the peace is defined as engaging in behavior that is loud, unreasonable, or offensive to others. While this may seem like a stretch for having sex in a car, you could face this charge if it occurs in a public location and someone complains about it.

What Are the Potential Consequences?

Most criminal charges related to having sex in a car are misdemeanor offenses. If convicted, you could face six months and one year in county jail, plus fines up to $1000.

Potential Consequences for Having Sex in a Car
Most California crimes that are related to having sex in a car are misdemeanor offenses.

The judge also has the latitude to impose summary probation instead of a jail sentence if the circumstances are appropriate for minor or first-time offenses.

However, bear in mind that crimes such as indecent exposure and lewd conduct qualify as sex crimes under California law and thus carry the requirement to register as a sex offender under the registry system.

If you are convicted of a sex crime related to the incident in a vehicle—even if it's a misdemeanor offense—your name will be included on the sex offender registry for at least ten years.

You'll have to keep your registration information current by reporting to law enforcement every year within five days of your birthday and five days of a move. Being a registered sex offender can also impact where you're allowed to live and where you can work.

What are the Common Defenses?

If you're facing charges related to sex in a car, your attorney can employ one of several defenses on your behalf, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • No willful intent: You can argue that any exposure or act wasn't intentional or meant to be seen by the public. To use this defense, you'll need to convincingly demonstrate that you had no intention for your actions to be viewed publicly.
  • The location was on private property: If the vehicle was on private property obstructed from public view, you should not be convicted of any crime. 
  • No public view: If the vehicle was technically in a public area, but no one was around to see it, this might qualify as a viable defense to have the charges dropped or sentencing minimized.

if you were charged with a crime related to having sex in a car, contact our California criminal defense attorneys to review the details and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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