Understanding Lewd Conduct in San Diego – California Penal Code 647(a) PC

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Are You Being Charged With Soliciting or Engaging in Lewd Acts in Public?

Lewd conduct in public is a serious offense in California. If you have been accused of engaging in sexual acts or exposing yourself in a public place, you could face criminal charges under California Penal Code 647(a).

If the prosecution has charged you with lewd acts in public, you need a strong legal defense. 

The San Diego criminal defense attorneys of the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, are nationally renowned and have tried well over 100 jury trials.

We can help you protect your reputation and your rights. Contact us today.

How Does California Law Define Lewd Conduct in Public? 

Under California law, lewd conduct in public is defined as: 

  • Intentional Touching—willfully touching your own or another person’s private parts, such as their genitals, buttocks, or breasts.
  • Sexual Intent or Annoyance—the act of touching someone with the specific intention of arousing or satisfying their sexual desires, or causing irritation or offense to others.
  • Public Setting—the act must occur in a public place accessible to the public or readily visible to the public eye, where others are likely to be present. 
  • Reasonable Awareness of Offense—you must be aware or reasonably expect that your actions will offend someone present. 

The terms lewd and dissolute refer to actions that involve explicit or indecent behavior, frequently associated with sexual acts or promiscuity.

In California, a public place is defined broadly, and some places courts have found to be public include: 

  • A car parked on a public street,
  • A booth at a restaurant, 
  • A common space in a residential building, and 
  • A massage parlor. 

However, unless exposed to public view, your home, hotel room, and closed place of business are not considered public places. 

What Are the Penalties for Lewd Conduct in San Diego?

Lewd conduct in California is a misdemeanor. If you are convicted, the court could sentence you to:

  • Up to six months in county jail, or
  • A fine of up to $1,000, or 
  • Both.

The judge can order probation instead of jail time.

This means that you will be under court supervision for up to three years and required to comply with probation requirements like:

  • Counseling,
  • Community service, 
  • Paying restitution, or
  • Complying with a restraining order.

You do not have to register as a sex offender for a conviction under Penal Code 647(a).

However, a lewd conduct conviction in San Diego will go on your criminal record and may affect your ability to obtain housing or employment.

What Is The Difference Between Lewd Conduct and Indecent Exposure?

Lewd conduct and indecent exposure are two different crimes in California. Indecent exposure is defined as willfully exposing your naked body or genitals in a public place to others who would be offended or annoyed. While both crimes require that the act is done for sexual gratification or to sexually offend someone else, there are three key differences:

  • Lewd conduct involves touching, while indecent exposure involves showing;
  • Lewd conduct can be committed in a private place, as long as other people can see it, while indecent exposure requires a public place or a place open to public view; and
  • A lewd conduct conviction does not require sex offender registration, while a conviction for indecent exposure does.

Both crimes are typically charged as misdemeanors unless you have a prior conviction or the incident involves a minor.

What Are Some Offenses Related to Lewd Conduct In Public?

While lewd conduct focuses on specific touching with specific intent in a public setting, other crimes in California are similar.

Disorderly Conduct 

Disorderly conduct is a general term for crimes that involve behaving in a way that is offensive, disruptive, or harmful to the public.

Some examples of disorderly conduct are prostitution, soliciting prostitution, invasion of privacy, loitering, trespassing, and public intoxication. Disorderly conduct is usually a misdemeanor that can lead to up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Sexual Battery 

Sexual battery involves touching someone else’s intimate parts without their consent for sexual pleasure, abuse, or humiliation. Intimate parts include the sexual organ, anus, groin, or buttocks of any person, and the breast of a female.

Sexual battery can happen in public or private, and it can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the situation. Sexual battery can result in up to four years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and sex offender registration.

How Can I Defend Against a Lewd Conduct Charge in California?

There are several strategies that your defense attorney may use to defend you against a lewd conduct charge.

You Didn’t Do It

If the touching didn’t happen, then you aren’t guilty of a crime.

Perhaps a complaining witness didn’t see what they thought they saw or they misinterpreted it.

Touching Was Accidental

You can’t be held responsible for accidental touching.

Accidentally bumping into someone or brushing against them is not willful touching.

Touching Was Not Intended to Gratify, Arouse, or Offend

If the touching did occur, but you did not intend to gratify, arouse, or offend someone, you can’t be guilty of lewd conduct.

For example, scratching yourself or rubbing a stain out of someone’s clothing would not satisfy the intent requirement.

The Area Was Not Open to Public View

If the conduct took place in an enclosed area not open to public view, it is not illegal.

You Did Not Know Someone Could See You

For the court to convict you of lewd conduct, someone has to see you.

And even if someone did see you, you cannot be convicted if you had no reason to believe that you could be seen.

For example, you cannot be found guilty if you took steps to seclude yourself but someone was peeking at you.

Facing Lewd Conduct Charges in San Diego? We Can Help You Fight Back.

A lewd conduct charge can have lasting consequences, so you need an experienced defense attorney to protect your rights. At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we have a proven track record of defending individuals facing lewd conduct charges and other criminal offenses.

From dismissals to reduced charges, our experienced attorneys know the law and the San Diego lewd conduct penal code. We’ll aggressively challenge the evidence and accusations against you, fighting to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome.

Don’t let charges for lewd conduct define your future. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation. We’ll review your case, explain your legal options, and devise an appropriate defense. 

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.