California Penal Code 647(a) makes engaging in or soliciting another person to engage in lewd acts in a public place a crime. Lewd acts, in this case, include touching your genitals for sexual gratification. Engaging in sexual acts in and of itself is not a crime. However, doing it in the presence of other people or in public view violates PC 647(a).

California sex crime laws are stringent. For this reason, a conviction for violating Penal Code 647(a) attracts serious legal and collateral consequences. After serving your jail sentence and paying your fines, you will be left to deal with the collateral consequences of your conviction, sometimes including sex-offender registration. Therefore, avoiding a conviction is critical.

You must seek immediate legal representation if you face an arrest and charges for lewd conduct. Your attorney will help you investigate the facts of your case, protect your rights, and build a solid defense against your charges. At Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we offer expert legal guidance to clients battling lewd conduct charges in Pasadena, CA.

Overview of Lewd Conduct in California

Lewd conduct is touching genitals or female breasts in a public place for sexual gratification or to annoy another person. Often, you will be arrested and charged with this offense if you engage in these acts in a place easily viewable by others. The prosecution must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a conviction in your case:

  1. You Willfully Touched Your Genitals or the Genitals of Another Person

Under California PC 647(a), lewd conduct means that you touched your genitals or caused another person to touch you or themselves. Often, the prosecution will prove that your conduct was lewd if the act was motivated by a need for sexual gratification or annoying others. Touching your private parts is not an offense. However, it becomes illegal when you do it in another person’s presence.

  1. You Engaged in Lewd Conduct in a Public Place

You are guilty of violating Penal Code 647(a) if you engage in lewd conduct in a public area. According to the court’s interpretation, a public place could be any of the following areas:

  • A movie booth.
  • Common hallways n apartment buildings.
  • Massage parlor.
  • Inside a vehicle parked on a public street.

You cannot be found guilty if you engage in lewd acts in your home, hotel room, or locked business premises.

  1. You Acted with an Intent to Annoy or Arouse 

California Penal Code 647(a) prohibits lewd conduct but does not contain language on intent. However, the court interprets the touching of genitals as a sexual act. Therefore, you cannot be convicted for acting in a manner that does not offend or annoy another person. The court will determine the specific intent of your crime depending on how a reasonable person would interpret your actions.

It would help your case if you found an innocent explanation for your behavior. However, the burden of proving the elements lies on the prosecution, not the defense.

  1. You Offended Another Person with your Conduct

In the definition and prosecution of lewd conduct, it is a requirement that your conduct annoys or offends another person. A sexual act in a public place will only attract an arrest and criminal charges when another person complains that they were offended by the act.

The court requires the prosecution to prove that you knew not only about the mere presence of another person but also the likelihood of annoying them with your actions.

Lewd Conduct Sting Operations in California

Most arrests for lewd conduct in public arise from undercover operations by the police. Mainly, a law enforcement officer possesses these characteristics as a gay male at common gay hookup locations. The police officers can also set up sting operations at discrete public areas. The officers then attempt to bait individuals into sexual acts.

For most of these operations, another police officer will be the only other person present at the location beside the target. Ultimately, there may be conflicting statements between the defendant and the arresting officer. If you are found to be engaging in lewd conduct after these undercover operations, the police could cite and release you.

A citation release means you will not be taken to jail but must appear in court on a specific date. Alternatively, the officer can arrest you and take you to jail. After booking, you can go through the bail process and battle your charges in court.

Once you learn of your charges and contact your attorney, they can assess the case and convince the prosecution to drop them. However, the district attorney will only agree to drop your charges if you plead guilty to a lesser crime like trespass or disturbing peace.

Sentencing and Punishment Under California Penal Code 647(a)

Lewd conduct is charged as a misdemeanor. A conviction for this offense is punishable by a jail sentence of up to six months and fines not exceeding $1,000. Instead of spending time in jail after your conviction, the court can send you on misdemeanor probation. Most people who face a misdemeanor conviction for lewd conduct can escape jail through probation.

However, you must understand that a probation sentence is not automatic. If your attorney thinks the sentence serves your best interests, they can negotiate with the prosecution. Misdemeanor probation lasts up to three years and aims to rehabilitate the defendant, restore the victim, and protect the public.

While on probation for lewd conduct, the court may impose the following probation terms:

  • Pay all your court fines.
  • Stay away from the location where you committed.
  • Attend counseling sessions.
  • Drug treatment if you were intoxicated at the time of the crime.
  • Undergo an HIV/AIDS.
  • Avoid violating other laws.
  • Complete your community service hours.

While probation can keep you out of jail, violating one of your probation terms will have severe repercussions. A probation officer or law enforcement officer can cite you for probation violations. The court will then schedule a probation violation hearing. At this hearing, you have the burden of explaining away the probation violation allegations.

If the court finds that you violated the probation, you could suffer a revocation. The judge will then impose harsher probation terms or reinstate your jail sentence.

Sex Offender Registration

After a conviction for lewd conduct, sex offender registration is not mandatory. However, if you are charged with this offense alongside indecent exposure or statutory rape, registering as a sex offender will be inevitable. Indecent exposure is a Tier 1 sex offense, meaning you must register for at least ten years and renew the registration annually.

Registering as a sex offender means providing your personal identification information to local law enforcement officers. Like a criminal record, the sex offender registry is accessible to the public. Therefore, anyone looking into your history can discover your sex offender status.

In addition to the social stigma associated with sex offender registration, the status can limit where you live and work. When an employer discovers your conviction and sex offender status, they can refuse to offer you employment.

Legal Defenses Against PC 647(a) Charges

The consequences of an arrest and conviction for engaging in lewd conduct are severe and life-changing. Even when you are acquitted, facing charges for a sex crime can impact you professionally and disrupt your life. However, lewd conduct in a public place is challenging to convict since the case is based on witness testimony and sting operations by law enforcement officers. Therefore, you should be aggressive in fighting the charges.

With the guidance of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney, you can carefully review the prosecutor’s case against you and build a defense. Common defenses you can raise against lewd conduct charges include

Police Entrapment.

Most arrests for lewd conduct or soliciting lewd conduct arise after sting operations by law enforcement officers. California entrapment laws forbid police officers from inducing a law-abiding citizen to commit a crime they would not have committed. Entrapment may include using force, pressure, fraud, or harassment to initiate criminal activity.

Whether or not your lewd conduct charge constitutes entrapment depends on the exact facts of your case and how the sting operation was performed. If you can prove that the officers used entrapment measures to coerce you into engaging in lewd conduct, you may be able to dismiss the charge.

False Accusations

Most lewd conduct cases are built on the testimony of a witness or police officers who set up undercover operations.

For this reason, it is not uncommon to be falsely accused of touching yourself inappropriately in a public place. Fortunately, the burden of proof in your lewd conduct case is on the prosecution.

In most cases, the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you engaged in the alleged sexual acts.

Lack of Intent

Touching yourself is not a criminal act. However, your actions become illegal when you intend to arouse yourself or annoy another person. Proving intent is challenging for the prosecution. Therefore, if you can establish that you touched yourself to urinate or because you felt itchy, you have a chance to escape the consequences of a conviction under PC 647(a).

You Believed that There was No One Around

One of the elements that the prosecution must prove before your conviction for lewd conduct is that you knew of another person’s presence when you engaged in the act. Additionally, you must have known that your behavior would offend or annoy the other person. You can defend yourself against Penal Code 647(a) charges by arguing that you did not know another person was around and could have viewed your conduct as offensive.

You Were in a Private Area

Touching yourself or causing another person to touch your genitals becomes a crime when you do it in a public area. Therefore, you are not guilty if you engaged in lewd conduct in your home or a closed business location. For example, if someone comes to your home unexpectedly and finds you engaging in acts considered lewd, they cannot claim to be offended by your actions.

Can I Expunge a PC 647(a) Conviction?

There are several legal ways to avoid the collateral consequences of your lewd conduct conviction, and expungement is one of them. Under California Penal Code 1203, an expungement is a legal proceeding where the court allows you to withdraw a guilty or no-contest plea and dismiss your case.

Expunging your conviction releases you from all the disabilities associated with your conviction. You can file for expungement relief if you meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You completed your probation. Defendants must have completed their probation if they serve the entire term and follow the conditions. If you can secure an early probation termination, you can still petition for the expungement.
  • You are not currently facing charges for another crime.

You can expunge the conviction by filing a petition with the court where you were convicted and attending an expungement hearing. If the prosecutor or district attorney does not support your petition, you must battle it in court. After an expungement, the court dismisses your lewd conduct conviction.

Although an expunged conviction will not be removed from your criminal history, potential employers and landlords cannot use it to discriminate against you. Unless a person finds it through a background check, you can say no to questions about past convictions.

Offenses Related to Lewd Conduct

A California Penal Code 647(a) violation is a severe sex crime under California law. After an arrest for engaging in a public sexual act, the prosecution will file as many charges against you as the evidence can support. In your lewd conduct case, the prosecution could introduce the following related offenses:

Indecent Exposure

California PC 314 defines indecent exposure as willfully exposing your genitals in a public area to annoy or offend other people. When you face charges for lewd conduct and the prosecution does not find evidence to prove that you touched your genitals, you could be charged with indecent exposure instead of lewd conduct.

Before you face a conviction for lewd conduct in California, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime:

  1. You willfully expose your genitals. Under this statute, an act is considered willful if you do it deliberately. Intending to break the law is unnecessary to prove that you committed a criminal act. You are only guilty of indecent exposure if you reveal your bear genitals. No matter how revealing, you could not be found guilty of the offense if you had clothes.
  2. You expose yourself in another person’s presence. Another element that must be clear to establish your guilt under this statute is that when you exposed yourself, another person was in the area. Additionally, the prosecution must show your intention to annoy or offend the other person.
  3. You intended to draw attention to the genitals. Exposing your genitals is not enough to find you guilty of PC 314. There must have been an intention to create public towards them. Exposing your genitals under this statute could be for sexual gratification or arousal. 

As a first offense, indecent exposure is a misdemeanor. A conviction under this statute will attract the following penalties:

  • A six months jail sentence.
  • A fine that does not exceed $1,000.
  • Sex offender registration for up to ten years.

Lewd Conduct With a Child

California PC 288 criminalizes touching a child under fourteen for sexual purposes. You will be found guilty of violating PC 288 if you engage in the following acts:

  • You deliberately touch a child’s body part. Under this statute, touching means any slight contact with the child’s skin or contact with a sexual organ. Actual arousal is not necessary to establish your liability under PC 288.
  • You willfully cause a minor to touch you, themselves, or another person.

The most challenging element for the prosecution to prove for lewd conduct with a child is your intent to commit the crime. Primarily, lewd conduct with a child must be motivated by sexual arousal or gratification. The court will consider these factors to establish your intent:

  • Whether or not you have a personal relationship with the minor.
  • The nature and context of the touching.
  • Absence of a clear justification for your actions.

Engaging in lewd conduct with a child under fourteen years of age attracts felony charges. In this case, the seriousness of your punishment will be determined by the alleged victim’s age. A felony conviction for felony lewd conduct with a minor is punishable by a sentence of up to eight years.

If you used force, threats, or violence to engage in the act, your sentence would be increased to a maximum of ten years. However, if the use of force resulted in bodily injury to the child, you could face twenty-five years to life imprisonment. When the victim of your crime is over fourteen years old, the prosecution will file wobbler charges.

A wobbler can attract a felony or misdemeanor conviction, depending on the circumstances. As a misdemeanor, lewd conduct with a child is punishable by a year in county jail and $1,000 in fines. A felony conviction, on the other hand, attracts a maximum of three years in prison. You will require expert legal guidance if you face criminal charges for lewd conduct with a child.

Disturbing Peace

You may be allowed to enter a plea of disturbing peace when you face charges for lewd conduct in public, and the prosecution does not have a strong case against you. In California, a plea deal involves pleading guilty or no contest to a lesser offense to dismiss your current charges. Disturbing the peace is charged under California PC 415, which involves the following acts:

  • Fighting in public unlawfully.
  • Disturbing another person with loud music.
  • Using offensive language in a public area.

Disturbing peace is a wobbler that attracts a ninety-day jail sentence or a fine that does not exceed $400. If you can successfully enter a disturbing peace plea, you will avoid substantial jail time and other harsh consequences of a lewd conduct conviction.

Statutory Rape

California PC 261.5 makes it a crime to engage in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of eighteen. The age of consent to a sexual act in California is eighteen years. Therefore, sexual contact with a minor will attract an arrest and criminal charges. Lewd conduct involves engaging in sexual acts in public.

You could be charged with statutory rape and lewd conduct if you engaged in these acts with a child. Statutory rape is a California wobbler. This means the prosecution can charge you with a felony or a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by a jail sentence that does not exceed one year and a $1,000 fine.

A felony PC 261 conviction will attract felony probation, up to $10,000 in fines, and a maximum of three years in prison.

Find a Skilled Pasadena Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

You can be arrested and charged with lewd conduct when you touch your genitals or solicit another person to engage in the lewd act in a public area. Before you face a conviction for lewd conduct, the prosecution must prove your acts and intention to gratify yourself sexually or offend another person.

A mere accusation of lewd conduct can ruin your reputation and professional prospects. This is because after you have served your sentence, the conviction sticks to your criminal record, which the public can access. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the court can impose sex offender registration.

Fortunately, not all arrests for this offense result in a conviction. With the guidance of a skilled sex crime defense lawyer, you can fight the charges and avoid a conviction. If you face lewd conduct charges in Pasadena, CA, you will benefit from the expert legal guidance we offer at Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm. Call us today at 626-628-0564 to discuss your case details.