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Is Having Sex in a Car Illegal?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Mar 30, 2024

In California, there is no specific law prohibiting having sex in your car, but you could still face criminal charges in certain situations. In other words, a sex act in the car within public view could break several different laws.  

People engaging in sexual activity in a vehicle is certainly nothing new, but the question of whether it's legal is often debated. The simple answer as to whether it's considered legal in California is that it depends on the specific details, such as where your car was parked and whether your sex acts were in public view.

Is Having Sex in a Car Illegal in California?
No law makes it illegal to have sex in a car, but you face charges of lewd conduct in public.

For example, California Penal Code 647 says, “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” is guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct." 

“Lewd and dissolute conduct” covers any behavior where someone's breasts or genitals are exposed to public view. It could also include grabbing a woman's breasts or a man's penis over their clothes, which could occur under the broader category of having sex in a car. Public masturbation in your vehicle is also against the law, regardless of whether you remain fully clothed.

Simply put, you cannot legally have sex in your car if it's parked in a public place where people might see you engaging in what's called “public sex.” It's also illegal to have sex in a car parked on private property if people in a public place can see you. 

For example, if you have sex in your car while parked in a city park, you may face disorderly conduct charges. Public places include streets, alleys, parking lots, shopping malls, beaches, and any place open to the general public.

As noted, while some parking lots are privately owned, it does not mean you can have sex in your car while parked there because you may still be visible to the general public. This would include sexual intercourse and oral copulation.

The Crucial Factor of “Public Visibility”

The primary factor that can turn sex in a car into a criminal matter is whether it occurs in public view. If the car is parked on private property with consent and you are not visible to people in a public location, you are not committing a crime by having sex in a car. 

However, as noted, public sex may violate numerous statutes in California. If the sex occurs in a public area or a place where others can view them, it could result in criminal charges, even though you are inside a vehicle. Lewd conduct in public is defined as:

  • When someone touches their private parts or
  • Intimate parts of another person for sexual gratification or arousal and
  • Do so when they know, or should have known, that there are people present who could be offended by the touching. 

Private parts refer to the genitals, the buttocks, or the female breast. Depending on the circumstances, you could be charged with the following:

A public act typically affects people in a community. Whether or not sex is considered a public act should depend on some common sense.  For example, sexual or lewd acts will be considered public if they occur in a car in a parking lot or public city park and are visible to people passing by. 

What About Prostitution in Public Places?

Having sex in a car with a prostitute could result in criminal charges. Under California law, it's illegal to either engage in acts of prostitution or solicit it. Soliciting means requesting, encouraging, or attempting to pay for acts of prostitution. The related crimes include the following:

Penal Code 653.22 PC loitering to commit prostitution was repealed under SB357.

If you engage in sex in a vehicle in the wrong place or circumstance, then you could be exposed to one or more of these crimes; some might require registration as a sex offender if convicted.

Which Crimes Could Be Filed for Sex in a Car in Public View?

Suppose you are arrested for having sex in a car within public view. In that case, you could face different criminal charges depending on the case details, such as the following:

  • Penal Code 647(a) PC Lewd Conduct in Public. This law is violated when you engage in an act of lewd or dissolute conduct in a public place, such as touching another person's private parts or your own, for the purposes of sexual gratification or arousal. This crime is the most common related to having sex in a car in public view.
  • Penal Code 647(b) PC Solicitation of Prostitution. This law is violated when you use sexual services for money or another type of compensation. If police have reason to believe that the sex act in the car was part of such an exchange, you could be charged with solicitation or prostitution.
  • Penal Code 314 PC Indecent Exposure. This law is violated when you intentionally expose your private parts. It refers to intentionally exposing your genitals in a public area or any place where someone might be offended or annoyed by such behavior.
  • Penal Code 415 PC Disturbing the Peace. This law is violated when you engage in loud, unreasonable, or offensive behavior to others in public. 

What Are the Possible Penalties? 

Most charges that are related to having sex in a car are misdemeanors that carry up to six months in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. However, judges will typically impose probation only rather than jail time, especially for a first-time offender.

Notably, some sex crimes, such as indecent exposure and lewd conduct, could potentially result in registration as a tier-one sex offender under California Penal Code 290 PC for at least ten years.

This means you would be required to annually renew your information with the local police station every year within five days of your birthday and five days of moving to another residence.  Further, registered sex offenders often have restrictions on where they can live and work.

What are the Defenses?

Suppose you are facing criminal charges related to sex in a car in public. In that case, our California sex crime attorneys could utilize several defenses on your behalf, such as the following: 

  • Not in public view: If your vehicle was parked in a public area, but nobody was present to see the sex acts, then this might be used as a complete defense to get the charges reduced or dismissed.
  • No willful intent: Perhaps we can argue that any exposure was not deliberate and was meant to remain private. However, you would have to demonstrate you had no intent for your sex acts to be viewed publicly.
  • Private property: Perhaps we can argue that your vehicle was on private property and obstructed from public view. 

Contact us for a free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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