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Public Urination in California

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Mar 08, 2024

Some people are surprised that California has no specific state law prohibiting public urination. However, that does not mean you can't be charged with a crime for doing so. 

Urinating in a public place can result in criminal charges under various state or local laws, depending on the circumstances—most involving fines, but occasionally even jail time.

While no law makes public urination a crime, most people caught urinating in a public place can be a public nuisance, lewd conduct, disorderly conduct, public intoxication, disturbing the peace, or indecent exposure.

Public Urination in California
California has no specific law making public urination a crime, but uses other charges.

Penal Code 372 PC public nuisance says, “Every person who maintains or commits any public nuisance, the punishment for which is not otherwise prescribed, or who willfully omits to perform any legal duty relating to the removal of a public nuisance, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Most cities have local ordinances prohibiting public urination, which can be misdemeanors or infractions defined under Government Code 36900. Infractions for public urination are punishable by a fine ranging from $100 to $500 but do not include jail time. 

Penal Code 647(a) covers lewd conduct in public by making it a crime to engage in or solicit someone to engage in a lewd act in public or a place exposed to public view. 

Penal Code 647(f) PC covers public intoxication by making it a crime to be drunk in public. Still, the level of intoxication must be enough that the person cannot care for their safety. Disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor punishable by six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000 after an overnight stay in the “drunk tank.” 

As noted, jail time for public urination is improbable, but you could be arrested and cited under state and local laws. These laws are mostly infractions and misdemeanors that carry probation, fines, community service, etc. 

What are the Laws Regarding Public Urination in California?

As noted, while state law does not explicitly address public urination, it can still be indirectly prosecuted under other state statutes and local ordinances. Some of the more common are listed below.

Public Nuisance 

Prosecutors frequently charge public urination as a misdemeanor offense under California Penal Code 372 PC, which outlaws causing a "public nuisance." Simply put, public urination may be considered a "public nuisance." 

Under Civil Code 3480, a public nuisance is anything injurious to health, offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community, neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons. Violating PC 372 can result in the following:

  • Up to $1000 in fines,
  • Up to six months in county jail.

Disorderly Conduct

California Penal Code 647 outlines several forms of "disorderly conduct," one of which could potentially apply to public urination. Subsection (f) addresses being in public while too affected by alcohol, drugs, or substances to take care of yourself or others.

It also covers how being under the influence can disrupt public areas like streets and sidewalks. Since public intoxication is often accompanied by public urination, you could be charged under PC 647(f) if you urinated publicly while drunk. As with PC 372, disorderly conduct is a misdemeanor punishable by the following:

  • Up to six months in county jail and
  • A fine of up to $1,000.

Urinating on/in Public Transportation

The one California statute that does expressly criminalize public urination is Penal Code 640, which (among other things) prohibits public urination or defecation on or in any public transportation facility, such as buses, trains, subways, or stations (except for in restrooms, or unless you are incontinent due to disability, health, or age). A conviction under this law can result in the following:

  • Up to $400 in fines and
  • Up to 90 days in jail.

Indecent Exposure

California Penal Code 314 PC Indecent Exposure 

In some cases, public urination could be charged under California Penal Code 314 PC, which pertains to "indecent exposure." 

This law makes it a crime to expose one's genitals in public when motivated by a desire to gratify oneself or another person sexually or to offend or insult.

Under PC 314, everyone who willfully and lewdly exposes their private parts in a public place or where there are other people to be offended or annoyed is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Indecent exposure is a more serious charge, classified as a misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for repeat offenders.  The penalties for an indecent exposure conviction include the following:

  • A misdemeanor conviction can result in up to six months in county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.
  • A felony conviction carries a potential state prison sentence of up to three years and fines of up to $10,000.
  • Furthermore, any indecent exposure conviction will require you to register as a tier-one sex offender for at least ten years.

Lewd Conduct

If the act of public urination occurs near a school or park where children are present, it might be classified as lewd conduct (California Penal Code 647(a)). If convicted of this offense, you could face up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Moreover, as with indecent exposure, if you're convicted of lewd conduct, you will be required to register as a sex offender.

Local Ordinances

Many cities and municipalities (like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego) have enacted ordinances prohibiting urinating in public spaces. The penalties for violating these local laws can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another but often include fines, community service, and, in some cases, jail time.

For instance, in Los Angeles, public urination is an offense under Los Angeles County Code, Section 11.16.050, that may be charged either as an infraction or a misdemeanor. An infraction will primarily lead to fines, while a misdemeanor can lead to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in jail.

Some of the common defenses against public urination charges are mistaken identity, necessity, physical disability, and medical condition. Contact our law firm for more information. 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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