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Lewd Conduct in Public

If you have recently been arrested in the L.A. Area or anywhere in Southern California on a charge of lewd conduct in public, you should not hesitate to seek experienced legal help as soon as possible.

There are serious, long-term potential consequences upon conviction of the crime of lewd conduct in California, but a skilled criminal defense attorney can often prevent that from happening.

At Leah Legal, we have been defending clients against lewd conduct charges for many years and have successfully handled numerous such cases. We understand the details of the California Penal Code on this matter as well as the dynamics of local Los Angeles courtrooms.

We will fight tenaciously to win for you the best possible outcome to your case. We have won many dismissals, acquittals, and reduced charges/sentences for others with cases very similar to your own, and we stand ready to do the same for you.

For a free legal consultation, contact Leah Legal anytime 24/7 at 818-484-1100.

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How Is "Lewd Conduct" Defined Under California Law?

Under California Penal Code Section 647a, it is against the law to engage in or solicit "lewd" or "dissolute" conduct in a public place.

Specifically, lewd conduct is defined as touching one's own or someone else's genitalia, but, or a female breast for the purpose of sexual gratification or to purposefully offend another person.

Note that it is illegal to engage in lewd conduct in any place open to the public or that is easily viewable by the public. 

It is not automatically lewd conduct, however, even in public, unless the defendant knew (or should have known) that his/her actions could likely offend another person who might be present.

What Must the Prosecution Prove?

To gain a conviction on the charge of lewd conduct in public, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the crime beyond all reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant touched his/her own genitals, but, or female breast OR that of another person.
  • This touching occurred in a public place or in a place open to public view.
  • The act was done for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification OR to annoy/offend someone.
  • Another person was or could easily have been present who would have taken offense. AND, the defendant knew or could reasonably have been expected to know the his/her actions would likely be seen and be offensive.

A few points to clarify in regard to what the prosecutor must prove are as follows:

Under PC 647a, lewd and dissolute have the same meaning. They are not two separate crimes.

"Lewd/dissolute" conduct is limited to sexually related conduct, according to the traditional use of the terms, as understood by California courts.

"Public" is broadly interpreted. It can be public property (government-owned), a place open to the public (like a shopping mall), a private home's front yard where no fence blocks the view, a vehicle parked by the side of the road, and a host of other locations. It would not be inside your home or hotel room unless you can be seen through an open door or window with no blinds/curtains.

Also note that more than the bare possibility of being seen by others is needed to meet the bar of "knew or should have known" that one's conduct would likely be seen and be found offensive. It must be likely, not merely possible. A good lawyer will be able to carefully distinguish the two.

Possible Penalties Upon a Lewd Conduct Conviction

PC 647a (lewd conduct in public) is a misdemeanor offense in California, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. However, it is very common for the jail time to be exchanged for informal probation.

Probation terms will typically include being banned from the location where you allegedly committed lewd conduct, additional fines, and mandatory counseling sessions and AIDS testing.

Unlike many California sex crimes, lewd conduct convictions do not require registration as a sex offender. Oftentimes, however, a prosecutor will charge a defendant with indecent exposure (which does require lifetime sex offender registration) to gain leverage. Only a skilled defense lawyer will know how to successfully counter these kinds of moves and win you a favorable outcome.

Common Defense Strategies Against a Lewd Conduct Charge

At Leah Legal, we have seen a wide range of lewd conduct defense cases over the years, and we will know how to build you a solid defense.

We use a great variety of defense strategies in lewd conduct cases. And while every case is unique, we have used certain basic defense types again and again with great success, including these:

  1. False accusation. Perhaps, the police officer or another witness are saying you touched yourself or another person in a certain way, but you simply didn't do it. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove you did what you are being accused of. Oftentimes, there isn't enough evidence to prove the allegation beyond all reasonable doubt.

  2. Lack of intent. It may be that though you touched your genitals or other private part as accused, yet, you did not do so with the intention of sexually arousing/gratifying yourself or another person. It may have been you touched your genitals to urinate or because they itched, for example.

  3. You thought no one was present. If you had a reasonable belief that no other person was or would become present who would likely be offended by your actions, you cannot be convicted of PC 647a.

  4. Not in a public place. If the prosecution can't demonstrate the action took place on public property, in a place open to the public, or on private property but still viewable to the public, you cannot be convicted of lewd conduct.

  5. Police entrapment. When police go too far on undercover sting operations and "induce law abiding citizens to commit crimes they were not already disposed to commit," it is entrapment, which can lead to your case being dismissed. 

About L.A. Lewd Conduct Sting Ops

Most arrested for lewd conduct are arrested by an undercover police officer during a "sting operation." And usually, it is an officer posing as a homosexual male who is out "cruising."

The officer acts as a kind of "decoy," oftentimes, in public restrooms or in common gay hook-up locations, like Griffith Park. But stings also take place in dark alleys, malls, gyms, massage parlors, adult book stores, and elsewhere. And it can sometimes be other than a homosexual decoy sting, of course.

These stings can take place because of complaints to the police department from concerned citizens. But it can also be simply a matter of common knowledge that certain places are likely spots for lewd conduct in public to occur.

After a Lewd Conduct Arrest

In many instances, people are given a citation after a lewd conduct arrest, and that is all that ever happens. In other cases, arrestees may be cuffed, taken to the police department for fingerprinting, and booked in jail temporarily before being let go with an order to appear in court later.

Whatever the details of your arrest, you should contact a skilled defense attorney with deep experience in this practice area without delay. 

Many times, in the interim between the arrest and the case being formally filed, your defense attorney (if you have one already) can meet with the prosecution and dissuade them from pursuing the case.

Also note that you do not technically have to appear in court for a lewd conduct in public charge. As this is a misdemeanor offense, your lawyer can appear in your place.

Once in court, your lawyer can get access to the police report and all evidences to be used by the prosecution. And a good lawyer will also inspect the scene of the alleged crime, look into having a background check done on the arresting officer, and find additional evidence and witnesses in your favor.

In some cases, with the defendant's full knowledge and consent, it may be wise to seek a favorable plea deal. Many times, a lewd conduct in public charge can be reduced to a lesser offense like trespassing or disturbing the peace. But often, we can win a dismissal or an acquittal because the prosecution's evidence is often not as strong as they would have you believe.

Related Offenses

Offenses that are often charged along with lewd conduct OR that may be a lesser offense charged instead of lewd conduct as part of a plea deal, include the following:

  1. Indecent exposure (PC 314). This charge is worse than a PC 647a lewd conduct charge in that it requires lifetime registration as a California sex offender. When one exposes his or her genitals in public rather than simply touching them, it becomes indecent exposure. But this exposure must be shown to have been done for sexual gratification or to purposefully offend. Often, a good defense attorney can defeat this charge due to weak evidence. We know how to call the prosecutor's "bluff" when he/she charges PC 314 just to try to get you to knuckle under on the PC 647a charge.

  2. Trespassing (PC 602). Trespassing is simply entering someone else's property without his/her consent to do so. This is a relatively minor offense, which can be a low-level misdemeanor or a mere infraction. Often, a plea will allow conviction on PC 602 instead of PC 647a, even though the two crimes have very little in common.

  3. Disturbing the Peace (PC 415). Fighting in public, using "fighting words" in public, or disturbing others with unreasonably loud noises in public, can all qualify as "disturbing the peace." Again, this is a crime that can be a misdemeanor or an infraction and that is punished much less severely than lewd conduct in public. It is used as a plea deal reduction, though it has little to do with PC 647a aside from the actions taking place in a public.

  4. Loitering near a public toilet to commit lewd conduct (PC 647d). Interestingly, there is a separate California law against loitering around a toilet for the purpose of committing lewd conduct in public, PC 647a. The statute also cover toilet-loitering for other similar purposes, however, such as committing any kind of lewd and illegal act. This is not a charge reduction for lewd conduct since it has the same penalties attached to it. It can be a challenge for a prosecutor to prove a defendant's actions indicated a lewd purpose when he/she did not actually carry it out, but this is a charge your defense attorney needs to guard against during the trial.

Contact Us Today For Immediate Help

Here at Leah Legal, we understand the gravity of situation you are in when facing a lewd conduct in public charge in a California court. We know how to win these cases, and have done so many times before.

Lewd conduct law is somewhat "non-intuitive" at points in California, and you can't rely on your mere "common sense" to represent yourself at trial. Nor should you entrust your future to an over-worked public defendant who may not put the time and effort into your defense that you truly need.

Winning the best possible outcome to your case, be that a dismissal, acquittal, or reduced charge or sentence, is by far most likely when you rely on an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Leah Legal.

Call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm anytime 24/7/365 at 818-484-1100, and we will give you a free, no-obligation legal consultation and can immediately begin building you a solid defense.