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Lewd Acts in Public - California Penal Code 647

Lewd Acts in Public – California Penal Code 647(a) PC
California Penal Code 647(a) PC makes it a crime for someone to solicit or engage in lewd acts in public or in a place within public view.

California Penal Code Section 647 contains a number of subsections which each address a specific type of misdemeanor conduct that carries penalties of up to six months in a county jail and a fine up to $1,000.

Theses sex crime related charges generally involve soliciting to engage in lewd acts in a public place or within public view. Lewd acts are described as the touching of private parts for sexual gratification or to annoy or offend someone.

Private parts include genitals, buttocks, or female breast.

Typically, lewd conduct cases involve:

  • sexual activity in a public place, such as intercourse
  • oral sex
  • exposing genitals, or
  • masturbation. 

A “public place” is described as any place open to the general public, or a place exposed to public view. This includes a vehicle on a public street or parking lot, public bathroom, city park, movie theaters, and many others.

Many lewd conduct arrests are the result of undercover sting operations by law enforcement. Normally, a police officer will pose as someone seeking sexual activity in a public place and bait someone to commit a crime.

Readers should be aware that there are numerous violations listed under the rubric of Penal Code Section 647 including public intoxication, panhandling, illegal squatting, loitering, and peeping.

In this article, we will focus on two of these provisions – lewd acts under Penal Code 647(a), which is frequently used to criminalize solicitation of prostitution under Section 647(b), and invasion of privacy under Penal Code 647(j). 

To give readers a better understanding of the common lewd acts in public laws, our California criminal defense attorneys are providing a review below.

Lewd Acts in Public – Penal Code 647(a)

California Penal Code Section 647(a) criminalizes so-called “lewd acts.”  In the vast majority of cases, this section is used to criminalize solicitation of prostitution. 

In the most typical case, a defendant, usually a man, will pull over to speak to a young woman on the sidewalk in one of a few heavily trafficked areas. 

The defendant believes the woman is a prostitute and discusses specific sex acts and amounts of money which will be exchanged. 

At that point, patrol cars pull up and arrest the defendant who has unwittingly solicited an undercover officer. Law enforcement devotes substantial time and resources to these sting operations and accordingly these cases are almost always filed in court.

Outside of the solicitation of prostitution context, Section 647(a) is also used to prosecute lewd acts by the defendant. This can include exposing one's private areas. 

It should be noted that Section 647(a) applies in any public place, but also in any place exposed to public view. 

This means that a defendant can be charged with lewd acts for conduct occurring in their own home if it is visible to the public. Masturbation in the home with the window open facing a public sidewalk is a frequent example.

For more information, see CALCRIM 1161 and CALCRIM 1162, lewd conduct in public.

Defenses for PC 647(a) Lewd Acts/Prostitution

Defenses to a charge of lewd acts, especially in the solicitation of prostitution context, center around the defendant's intent. In an appropriate case, a defendant can successfully articulate a reason for the conversation with the undercover police officer other than attempting to pay for sex. 

Whether or not this defense is likely to succeed depends on the specific words used by the defendant in the conversation, which are typically recorded by the undercover officer.

Section 647(b) is simply the flipside of subsection (a) and criminalizes accepting money in exchange for sex, i.e. a commercial sex act. 

It should be noted that the sex does not actually have to take place for a violation of subsection (b) to be completed.

Related California Offenses for PC 647(a)

There are some California offenses that are related or charged together with Penal Code 647(a) including:

Invasion of Privacy – Penal Code 647(j)

California Penal Code Section 647(j) defines the crime of invasion of privacy under California law. Subsection (j) in turn contains three subsections which each address related, but distinct, forms of invasion of privacy. 

The first is looking into a place where an individual enjoys a reasonable expectation of privacy. These places include bedrooms, changing rooms, tanning booths, or any other place where a reasonable person would feel free from others viewing them. 

The looking can be accomplished with the naked eye or by means of some technology such as binoculars, cameras, etc.

The prosecution bears the burden of proving that the defendant charged under this subjection intended to invade the privacy of the person or persons inside the area in question.

As such, accidentally seeing someone in a private place is not criminal.

Use of a Concealed Camera

The second form of invasion of privacy involves the use of a concealed camera or other recording device to secretly film, record, photograph, or videotape some other person under or through their clothes for the purpose of viewing the body or undergarments of the victim. 

This recording must be accomplished without the consent of the person being recorded and must be done with the intent of satisfying the defendant's sexual desires and with the intent to invade the privacy of the victim. This provision criminalizes so-called “upskirt” videos.

The final provision of Section 647(j) addresses the use of a camcorder, video camera, or other device to photograph or videotape individuals in a state of partial or full undress. 

Again, this recording must occur without the knowledge and consent of the victim and be intended to invade the victim's privacy. 

This provision is addressed at the installation of hidden cameras in bathrooms, dressing rooms, etc.

A related offense for PC 647(j) is Penal Code 647i, peeking while loitering, which makes it a crime to peek in a door or window of an inhabited structure while loitering on private property. 

All violations of Penal Code Section 647 are misdemeanors punishable by up to six months in county jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. 

Contact Eisner Gorin LLP for Help

If you or a family member has been charged with the misdemeanor crime of lewd acts, solicitation of prostitution, prostitution, or invasion of privacy under Section 647, we can assist you. 

Through a prefiling intervention, we may be able to have charges reduced or dropped before they go to court. Effective representation by experienced criminal defense counsel is crucial to achieving the best possible outcome in your case. 

We need to first examine all the details of your case in order to determine an appropriate strategy.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm with decades of combined experience.

We are located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our main office is next to the Van Nuys Superior Courthouse at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our firm for a consultation at (310) -328-3776.

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