Keeping or Living in a House of Prostitution in California - Penal Code 315 PC
California Penal Code 315 PC prohibits people from living in or maintaining a house of prostitution (brothel), which is a misdemeanor that carries up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Acts of prostitution are illegal in the State of California, as are facilities such as brothels that are designated for these activities. Under PC 315, it is a crime for anyone either to keep a house of prostitution or to reside in one willfully.
The “house” in the context of this law includes a brother, private residence, motel, or any other location where prostitution activity regularly occurs.
PC 315 says, “Every person who keeps a house of ill-fame in this state, resorted to for the purposes of prostitution or lewdness, or who willfully resides in such house, is guilty of a misdemeanor; and in all prosecutions for keeping or resorting to such a house common repute may be received as competent evidence of the character of the house, the purpose for which it is kept or used, and the character of the women inhabiting or resorting to it.”
A prostitute is someone who engages in sexual intercourse or any lewd act with another person in exchange for money or other compensation. Lewd acts mean physical contact of the genitals, buttocks, or female breasts of either the prostitute or customer (“John”) with some part of the other person's body for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratiﬁcation.
Notably, a house of prostitution is also known as a house of “ill refute. A house, under Penal Code 315 PC, is not just some traditional home but about any type of building, including a massage parlor or strip club.
To “keep a house of prostitution” means to operate or manage a business where prostitutes are working. Sometimes, a prostitute can also be the person responsible for running a house of ill repute at the same time.
House of Prostitution - Explained
Penal Code 315 PC makes either of the following a misdemeanor offense:
- Keeping, owning, managing, or maintaining a house of prostitution (i.e., a brothel or a "house of ill-fame," as the law calls it) or
- Willfully residing in a house known to be a house of prostitution.
For purposes of this law, a house of prostitution includes any premises where sexual services are exchanged for money or other forms of compensation. The law is designed to target not just those directly engaged in prostitution but also those who facilitate or profit from such activities indirectly.
Other important things to know about this law:
- You do not have to participate in prostitution nor profit from it to be charged under PC 315. Simply residing in a brothel while knowing what the premises are used for is enough to procure a conviction.
- A "house of prostitution" can be identified by "common repute." The wording of PC 315 is interesting in that it gives prosecutors a very low burden of proof for showing that certain premises are used for prostitution. Prosecution may use "common repute" to establish "the house's character, the purpose for which it is kept or used, and the character of the women inhabiting or resorting to it." In other words, if it's generally known in the community that the house is a brothel, this is an acceptable level of evidence for the courts.
What Factors Must Be Proven?
For the prosecution to secure a conviction under Penal Code 315 PC, they must prove three critical elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, as follows:
- The Existence of a House of Prostitution: The prosecutor must establish that the place in question was being used for prostitution.
- Willful Connection to the Premises: The defendant either maintained the premises as a house of prostitution or willfully resided there.
- Knowledge of the Activity: The defendant must have been aware that the premises were being used for prostitution.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Jane owns a large house with numerous rooms and sets herself up as a "madam," managing a group of prostitutes who live there. Jane can be charged under PC 315.
EXAMPLE 2: Fred manages a multi-unit residential building. He rents out rooms to tenants with the full knowledge that they are using their rooms for prostitution. Fred could be charged under PC 315 for keeping a house of prostitution even if he only collects rent from the tenants.
EXAMPLE 3: Jeri has been evicted from her home and has nowhere to stay. Her friend, Georgia, invites her to stay in an unoccupied room in her house. Unbeknownst to Jeri, Georgia is a prostitute, and the house is a brothel. Jeri may have avoided charges under PC 315 because she was unaware of the purpose of the house.
What Are the Penalties for PC 315?
A violation of PC 315, keeping a house of prostitution is a misdemeanor offense. If you are convicted of this crime, you could face:
- Up to six months in county jail and
- A fine of up to $1,000.
- A second-time offense carries a minimum of 45 days in jail.
- A third or subsequent offense carries a minimum of 90 days in jail.
In some cases, the court may opt for summary probation instead of, or in addition to, jail time. Probation conditions could include community service, mandatory participation in educational programs, and occasional check-ins with a probation officer.
What are the Common Defenses?
If you're charged under PC 315, a California criminal defense attorney may employ several defense strategies to combat the charges. Common defenses include:
- Lack of Knowledge: You were not aware that the premises were being used for prostitution and, therefore, cannot be willfully complicit.
- Lack of Intent: There was no intention to keep or allow the premises to be used for prostitution. This could apply, for example, if a property you rented out was being used as a brothel and you took reasonable steps to prevent such activities but were unsuccessful.
- Mistake of Fact: You genuinely believed the premises were used for legitimate purposes, indicating a misunderstanding rather than criminal intent.
You can contact our law firm for a case review and discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.