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California Lewd Acts Defense Attorneys – California Penal Code 647 (a) PC

Lewd Acts in Public (California Penal Code Section 647(a))

Under California Penal Code 647(a), it is unlawful to engage in or solicit anyone to engage in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view.

To understand this law, it is important to understand some key terms. Under California law, “lewd” and “dissolute” have the same meaning. Many people have a vague idea of how those terms are defined, but the difference between lewd acts and other kinds of acts can be an important factor in a criminal proceeding.

Terms Defined

Lewd acts – A lewd act is any act that involves the touching of another’s genitals, buttocks, or female breasts for the purpose of:

  • Sexual arousal;
  • Gratification;
  • Annoyance; or
  • Offense.
Public places for purposes of PC 647(a).
It is crucial to take note of what can be considered a “public place” for purposes of PC 647(a).

The touching can be of one’s own body parts, or those of another person. It is also a crime to solicit someone else to do the touching.

Public – Over the years, there have been some discrepancies on how the term “in public” should be interpreted in court as specified under California law. The following are common examples of areas that are considered “public places” for purposes of PC 647(a):

  • a public restroom;
  • a dark movie theatre;
  • a car parked on a public street;
  • a common hallway in an apartment building;
  • a dressing room in a clothing store; and
  • a massage parlor.

If the alleged acts occurred in a private home, hotel room, or your closed place of business, you are generally not considered to have committed lewd acts in public. However, as of recent years, California courts have ruled that even if you were in your private home, you could still be convicted of committing lewd acts in public if the acts were committed where a person outside the home could have seen it within plain sight, such as through an open door, or a window without curtains or blinds obstructing public view.

Examples of Lewd Conduct and Related Crimes

Lewd conduct is a broad term that covers many types of acts that are sexual in nature as defined under California Penal Code 647(a). Some examples of lewd conduct include:

  • Having sex in a car parked in a public lot;
  • Masturbating in front of an open window overlooking a busy public park; or
  • Flashing your genitals or breasts at a concert.

Depending on the facts of your case, you may also face other criminal charges in addition to charges of lewd acts in public. Some of these additional crimes may include:

  • Indecent exposure (Penal Code section 314)
  • Disturbing the peace (Penal Code section 415)
  • “Peeping Tom” charges:
    •  Peeking while loitering (Penal Code section 647(i))
    • Invasion of privacy (Penal Code section 647(j))
  • Lewd acts with a minor (Penal Code section 288)

Prosecution of Lewd Acts in Public Charges

In order for you to be convicted of a violation of PC 647(a), the prosecution must prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. [ File # csp7839893, License # 1934251 ] Licensed through http://www.canstockphoto.com in accordance with the End User License Agreement (http://www.canstockphoto.com/legal.php) (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / joebelanger
    Certain elements of your alleged crime must be proven in order for you to be found guilty under PC 647(a).
    You willfully engaged in the touching of your own or another person’s genitals, buttocks, or female breast;
  2. The touching was done with the intent to sexually arouse or gratify the yourself or another person, or to annoy or offend another person;
  3. At the time of the act, you were in a public place, a place open to the public or a place open to public view;
  4. At the time you engaged in the conduct, a person who might have been offended was present; and
  5. You knew or reasonably should have known that another person who might have been offended by the conduct was present.

If you are facing charges for soliciting another person to engage in lewd acts in public under California Penal Code 647(a), the prosecution must prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You requested that another person engage in the touching of your own or another person’s genitals, buttocks, or female breast;
  2. You requested that the other person engage in the requested conduct in a public place, or a place open to the public, or in public view;
  3. When you made the request, you were in a public place, a place open to the public, or in public view;
  4. You intended for the conduct to occur in a public place, a place open to the public, or in public view;
  5. When you made the request, you did so with the intent to sexually arouse or gratify yourself or another person, or to annoy or offend another person; and
  6. You knew or reasonably should have known that someone was likely to be present who could be offended by the requested conduct.

Punishment for a Conviction of Lewd Acts in Public – PC 647(a)

A conviction of lewd acts in public is a misdemeanor in California, punishable by up to six months in county jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both jail and fine.

However, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to convince the court to grant you summary probation instead of a jail term. This means that the probation is not supervised, but will require that you fulfill certain conditions, such as paying fines and court fees, attend counseling, and even an order to stay away from the place where the alleged lewd acts were performed.

Defenses to Lewd Acts in Public

No intent. A key element that the prosecution must prove is whether you intended to engage in the alleged act in a sexually gratifying, arousing, annoying or offensive manner. If you did not have intent to engage in the alleged act in such a manner, your attorney may present this as a strong defense to your case.

For example, suppose you spend a day at the beach, and have plans to go to a dinner with some friends. You lost track of time, and you do not have time to go home before meeting your friends. You decide to change your clothes in your car, which is in the parking lot of the beach. A few feet away, a mother and her child begin to pack up their belongings in their car, and the child sees you. The mother assumes you are masturbating in public and calls the police, and you are arrested for performing a lewd act. Under these facts, the prosecution may find it difficult to prove that you were performing an act that had any intent to arouse, gratify, annoy, or offend yourself or others.

face palm
If you did not have knowledge that someone is likely to see you and be offended, you should not be convicted under PC647(a).

Lack of knowledge. Another key element required for the prosecution to prove against you is whether you had knowledge or reasonably should have known that someone is likely to see you and be offended. This means if there existed only a possibility that you could be seen, it is not necessarily enough to constitute a lewd act.

Suppose in the above scenario at the beach, you changed your clothes in the mouth of a cave in a part of the beach where no one was in sight. At that moment, a person on a boat travels past that part of the shore, and catches sight of you while looking toward the beach with a set of binoculars. You would not reasonably have been aware that the person was likely to see you, and thus your attorney can present this as a strong defense in your case.

You were not in public. The prosecution must prove that you committed the alleged acts in a public place. Thus, if you were in an area such as your home, a private hotel room or your closed place of business, your attorney can raise this defense on your behalf. However, if the private area in which the alleged acts took place was exposed to public view (e.g. through an open door or window of a home on a busy public beach), you could still be convicted of lewd acts in public. Thus, it is essential that you hire an experienced attorney to defend you.

Frequently Asked Questions on Lewd Acts in Public

1. If I am convicted of committing lewd acts in public, will I have to register as a sex offender?

Maybe. A conviction for a violation of PC 647(a) does not require mandatory registration under California Penal Code 290; however, according to California Penal Code 290.006, you could be ordered to register based upon the court’s discretion.

2. If I was in my own home at the time the alleged lewd acts took place, can I still be convicted?

Maybe. In these types of cases, the prosecution will analyze evidence to determine whether you knew or should have reasonably known that you could have been seen by someone outside of your home. In addition, the court must determine whether you committed these alleged acts with the intent to sexually arouse or gratify yourself, or annoy or offender another person.

For example, if you were masturbating at night in your home with the windows open but the lights inside your home were off, you could not have reasonably expected someone from outside your home to see you commit these acts; thus, you have a strong defense in your case. However, if the court finds that you did so with the lights on in your home with your genitals exposed while standing at your window and looking out at a person outside of your home, you could be convicted of lewd acts in public.
3. If I was just kissing my spouse in my car, could I still be convicted of lewd acts in public?

Maybe. In order for you to be convicted of this crime, the prosecution must prove that touching of your or another person’s genitals, buttocks, or female breasts took place, and that the alleged touching was committed for the purpose of sexually arousing or sexually gratifying yourself or another, or to annoy or offend another. Thus, if no touching of these body parts took place, you should not be convicted of lewd acts in public. However, if any of these body parts were exposed to the public, you could be convicted of indecent exposure under California Penal Code 314. Therefore, it is crucial that you hire an experienced attorney to defend you.

Contact the Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich If You Have Been Charged With Lewd Acts in Public

Wallin & Klarich PC 647(a) attorneys.
If you are facing criminal charges, you must act quickly. Call Wallin & Klarich today.

If you are facing charges of lewd acts in public under California Penal Code 647(a), you need to hire an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. At Wallin & Klarich, we have spent over 30 years successfully defending those charged with lewd acts in public. We can help you, too. Contact us today for a free, no obligation phone consultation.

With office locations in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney near you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.

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