Lewd Conduct in Public - California Penal Code 647(a) PC
California Penal Code 647(a) is the statute that makes lewd conduct in public a misdemeanor crime that carries up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If convicted, you are NOT required to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC.
PC 647(a) lewd conduct is defined as touching your own or another person's genitals, buttocks, or female breasts for sexual gratification or arousal when you knew, or should have known, other people present who could be offended by your conduct. This law also makes it unlawful for someone to solicit lewd conduct in a public place.
PC 647 says, “Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor:
(a) An individual who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or any place open to the public or exposed to public view.”
“Lewd acts” are generally described as inappropriate sexual conduct in a public place for sexual gratification or to offend someone. Lewd conduct frequently involves sexual touching in a public place, such as touching another person's genitals when other people are nearby and can see the sexual activity.
Often, arrests for lewd conduct are the result of undercover police sting operations. Female police officers will pose as prostitutes to bait someone into sexual activity, which often leads to an entrapment argument by experienced defense lawyers. Police sting operations for lewd conduct also target public bathrooms, public city parks, adult bookstores, and alleys.
What is the Definition of Lewd Conduct?
As noted, lewd acts under Penal Code 647(a) are willfully touching someone's intimate body parts in public view for sexual gratification when you should have reasonably known other people were present to witness it.
This means to violate this law, you could touch yourself or another person or solicit someone to touch your intimate body parts, including genitals, anus, or female breasts, in a public place. Lewd conduct cases can usually involve sexual conduct in a public place, public masturbation, or exposing your intimate parts in public.
To convict, a prosecutor must prove all the “elements of the crime” beyond a reasonable doubt, including the following:
- You willfully engaged in touching your own or someone else's genitals, buttocks, or a female breast.
- You committed the act with the intent to arouse or gratify yourself or someone else sexually OR
- To annoy or offend another person.
- When you committed the act, you were in a public place where someone was present who might have been offended.
- You knew or reasonably should have known that someone else was present that could have been offended by your lewd conduct.
Intimate body parts are defined as any portion of the genitals, anus, or female breasts from the top of the areola down.
What is a Public Place?
A "public place" is any place open to the public or exposed to public view, including the following places:
- parked car on a public street,
- public bathroom,
- city park,
- common hallway at an apartment complex,
- street alley.
It can also include lewd conduct through the bedroom window of a private residence where the sexual activity is in clear public view. Your home or a motel room is not considered a public place unless the curtains are pulled back for anyone to view lewd conduct inside.
Notably, it's not illegal to have sex in a public place; instead, it becomes unlawful when it's within view of someone who could be offended. Sometimes, when Penal Code 647(a) lewd conduct law is violated, police will just issue you a citation to appear in court but could make an arrest and book you before getting released with a citation.
What Are the Penalties for a PC 647(a)?
Penal Code 647(a) PC lewd conduct in public is a misdemeanor that carries the following penalties:
- up to six months in county jail,
- a fine of up to $1,000,
- informal summary probation.
Suppose the judge decides to grant probation. In that case, the terms and conditions typically include a stay-away order from where the offense occurred and counseling. As noted, lewd conduct in public charge will not require sex offender registration unless you are also charged with Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure in the event.
What Are Related Crimes?
Several California crimes are related to Penal Code 647(a) lewd conduct in public. This means they could be charged with lewd conduct., such as the following:
Penal Code 647(d) PC – loitering around a public toilet
This law makes it a misdemeanor crime to loiter in or around a toilet open to the public for the purpose of engaging in or soliciting any lewd, lascivious, or illegal act. Simply put, you violate this law if you hang around a public restroom to engage in lewd conduct.
PC 647(d) says, “Who loiters in or about any toilet open to the public for the purpose of engaging in or soliciting any lewd or lascivious or any unlawful act.”
Penal Code 314 PC – indecent exposure
California Penal Code 314 PC indecent exposure is often charged along with PC 647(a) lewd conduct, which would require sex offender registration under Penal Code 290 PC if convicted, a very significant factor.
Indecent exposure is defined as willfully exposing genitals in the presence of someone who would be offended and for the purpose of sexually gratifying yourself. Negotiations with the prosecutor to get PC 314 charges dropped are crucial to avoid the PC 290 sex registry requirement.
Penal Code 288 PC – lewd acts with a minor
California Penal Code, 288 PC lewd acts with a minor, is a significant separate offense from PC 647(a) lewd conduct and could occur if you touch a minor's intimate parts for a sexual purpose in public view. This felony crime carries harsh penalties and mandatory lifetime registration as a tier-three sex offender.
Penal Code 415 PC – disturbing the peace
California Penal Code 415 disturbing the peace is commonly used as a plea bargain. This law makes it a crime to make unreasonable, disturbing noises or to use fighting words in public. While this law typically has little connection to PC 647(a) lewd conduct in public, it carries lesser penalties and less social stigma and is often used by defense lawyers to get the charges reduced.
Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing
Again, California Penal Code 602 PC trespassing is commonly used as a plea-bargaining tool to drop PC 647(a) lewd conduct charges. PC 602 trespassing is defined as entering someone's property without permission and has little connection to lewd conduct but is a preferred charge due to fewer penalties.
Other related laws include Penal Code 647(b) PC solicitation of prostitution, Penal Code 647(i) peeking while loitering, and Penal Code 647(j) invasion of privacy.
What are the Legal Defenses for Lewd Conduct in Public?
To determine the best legal defenses against charges of PC 647(a) lewd conduct in public, our California sex crime attorneys must first review all the details. Prosecutors must prove certain factors in lewd conduct cases. However, some of the most common defenses include the following:
- The touching was not for sexual gratification.
- You were not aware of the presence of other people.
- You were not in a public place.
- You did not engage in lewd conduct.
- False accusation.
- Entrapment by police.
Perhaps we can argue that touching had no connection to sexual arousal. Maybe we can say that you were unaware that other people were around who could be offenses, which is a common defense to Penal Code 647(a) PC lewd conduct in public charges.
Maybe we can say that sexual activity did not occur in a public place that was open to public view or that the conduct does not meet the definition of “lewd conduct.”
Perhaps we can argue that police used entrapment, meaning they used pressure, fraud, flattery, or deceit to persuade you to commit a crime you would have otherwise not committed. This often occurs during police sting operations.
Early intervention by our law firm could be essential to a favorable outcome. Perhaps we can negotiate to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges (DA reject).
In most cases, there is a delay between the arrest and when the district attorney reviews the case to file formal charges.
This means it might be possible to speak with the prosecutor during this period to persuade them not to file charges by rejecting the case.
Because lewd conduct is a misdemeanor, we can go to court on your behalf and get the police report and discovery from the prosecutor. It's possible that you would never have to appear in court.
To avoid the social stigma of lewd conduct in public charge, we might be able to get the charges reduced to PC 415 disturbing the peace or PC 602 trespassing, as discussed above. Contact us for a free confidential case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, CA.