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Peeking While Loitering

Penal Code 647(i) PC - Peeking While Loitering  

California Penal Code 647(i) PC makes peeking into a home or inhabited building while loitering, prowling, or wandering on someone else's private property a misdemeanor offense. This crime is considered a form of disorderly conduct. If convicted, the punishments include up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

A “peeping tom” is someone who delays, lingers, or prowls around someone's private property without a lawful reason to be there and peeks into a window or opening, often for sexual gratification or arousal. 

California Penal Code 647(i) PC - Peeking While Loitering
PC 647(i) PC makes it a crime to peek into a home while wandering on someone's property.

In other words, PC 647(i) makes it a crime to loiter, prowl, or wander about private property and peek inside any inhabited building or structure without lawful business with the owner or occupant. 

To “loiter” means to delay or linger without a lawful purpose for being on the property and to commit a crime as soon as opportunity arises. Again, loitering is typically related to obtaining sexual arousal.

PC 647(i) says, “Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. (i) Who, while loitering, prowling, or wandering upon the private property of another, at any time, peeks in the door or window of any inhabited building or structure, without visible or lawful business with the owner or occupant.”

Suppose someone sneaks into another person's backyard and watches the female occupant change clothes through the bedroom window. In that case, he could be charged with PC 647(i) peeking while loitering. 

What is a “Peeping Tom?”

In California, it is a crime to spy on or take photos of another person in a private setting without their knowledge and consent, called "peeping tom" crimes.  A peeping tom (voyeur) is someone, typically a male, who:

  • Secretly watches occupants of a house, room, or other private place,
  • Without their consent or knowledge,
  • For the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal.  

Since no specific California Penal Codes address peeping toms and voyeurs, the district attorney uses similar disorderly conduct laws to file charges against an alleged perpetrator. 

Typically, peeping tom incidents will fall into one of two separate but related misdemeanor laws. These offenses include California Penal Code 647(i) PC peeking while loitering and Penal Code 647(j) PC invasion of privacy. 

What is Peeking while Loitering?

Peeking while loitering (prowling) is a form of misdemeanor disorderly conduct. This law covers the traditional “peeping tom.”  A prosecutor can file PC 647(i) if someone secretly looks into someone's home window while lingering on their property without any legitimate purpose for being there. 

Due to the nature of this crime, the perpetrator must be on someone's private property to be charged with it. However, to be charged, the perpetrator doesn't necessarily have to see anything private; instead, simply trying to do so is sufficient.

For the prosecution to obtain a conviction, they must be able to prove several factors beyond a reasonable doubt, including the following: 

  • You delayed, lingered, or wandered on private property.
  • You did not have a lawful reason to be there and
  • You peeked in a door or window of an inhabited structure. 

A structure or building is “inhabited” if somebody uses it as a dwelling place. It does not matter if they are inside during the alleged peeking offense.

An example of PC 647(j) peeking while loitering includes sneaking up to the window of a private residence without a legitimate reason for being there and looking in to view someone undressing, even if they didn't see anything. 

Suppose someone is sunbathing nude in their backyard, and you see them through the fence. In that case, peeking while loitering is not considered because you are on your property, and the sunbather is in public view.

What Are the Common Defenses?

Some of the common legal defenses against charges of Penal Code 647(i) peeking while loitering include the following:

  • You had a lawful or express purpose for being on the property.
  • You were not loitering.
  • You didn't intend to peek.
  • You were not on private property at the time.
  • You did not look into a door or window.
  • The structure you were peeking into was not inhabited.

What are Related Crimes? 

Peeping tom offenses are often charged in tandem with other criminal offenses depending on the case's circumstances. Some common related crimes include:

  • Penal Code 647(j) PC – invasion of privacy. It is a crime to intentionally look through a hole in a bathroom or dressing room using any instrument, including cameras, mobile phones, or electronic devices, intending to invade someone's privacy.  It also covers using a camera to look at someone's body under or through their clothes, called “upskirting.”
  • Penal Code 647(a) PC – lewd conduct. This crime is public behavior of a sexual nature. For example, by exposing your genitals or masturbating while looking in someone's window, you could be charged with lewd conduct in addition to peeking while loitering.
  • Penal Code 602 PC - trespassing. This crime means entering or remaining on private property without permission. When there is insufficient evidence to charge somebody with peeking while loitering, prosecutors often will charge them with trespassing instead.
  • !8 U.S.C. 1801 – federal voyeurism. This law prohibits invasion of privacy on a federally owned territory. It is a crime to knowingly and intentionally capture an image of someone's private areas without consent and under circumstances in which that person reasonably expects privacy.

What are the PC 647(i) Penalties?

If you are convicted of peeking while loitering, it's a misdemeanor offense with the following punishments:

  • Up to six months in county jail,
  • A fine of up to $1,000,
  • Victim restitution,
  • Informal summary probation.
  • If the victim is a minor or the defendant has a prior conviction for PC 647(i), the penalties will increase to one year in a county jail and a fine up to $2,000.

Sex Offender Registration 

A peeping tom conviction does not require registration as a California sex offender under Penal Code 290 PC. While peeking while loitering is often connected to sexual gratification or arousal, it could be committed without that crucial factor. 

However, under California Penal Code 290.006 PC, the court has the discretion to order you to register as a sex offender if they determine you committed this crime as a result of sexual compulsion or for the purposes of sexual gratification.

What is Informal Probation?

Often, when someone is convicted of PC 647(i) peeking while loitering, the judge will impose informal summary probation rather than jail time but require periodic check-ins with the court. Informal summary probation is for low-risk defendants, who can be sentenced to misdemeanor probation instead of jail time.

However, the judge will often impose various conditions on the probation. If the defendant does not follow them, their probation can be revoked, and the defendant can be sent to jail. The conditions of probation typically include the following: 

  • Periodic progress reports in court,
  • Stay-away order from the victim,
  • Counseling program,
  • Payment of victim restitution.

Notably, not all peeking while loitering defendants will qualify for misdemeanor probation. Eligibility will typically depend on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal record. Typically, anyone with felony convictions or a prior conviction for a serious felony such as rape or kidnapping is not eligible for probation. 

If you have been charged with peeking while loitering or a peeping tom offense, you should review your options with experienced legal counsel. Contact us for a free case review. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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