Top 4 (FAQ) About Lewd Conduct Charges – PC 647(a)

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Lewd conduct is punishable under the California Penal Code 647(a)1. The statute is violated when one engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place, or that you solicited someone else to engage in lewd or dissolute conduct in a public place.  “Lewd conduct” is defined as touching your private parts, or touching another’s private parts for the purpose of sexual gratification or to offend another person.  “Private parts” can include the genitals, the buttocks or a female’s breast.

The difficulty with lewd conduct is its subjective in nature.  Sexual activity alone is not a crime.  The sexual activity must be offensive to someone watching or the person engaging in the conduct should know that it would be offensive to someone watching.  The conduct only rises to “lewd conduct” if the prosecution can prove that the conduct was offensive to another who was present when the conduct occurred.

This crime is often targeted at specific groups and law enforcement often fabricates evidence.  An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to attack the credibility of any witnesses and the arresting officer and highlight any biases that exist in the event a specific group has been targeted by the offense.

Related: Lewd Conduct Charges: Your best & Worst Case Scenarios

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the penalties for lewd conduct?

Lewd conduct in California is a misdemeanor violation.  If convicted you face up to 6 months in the county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.[2]  This depends on your criminal history and subject to the judge’s discretion.

If convicted do I have to register as a sex offender?

A conviction for lewd conduct is not subject to sex offender registration.  Often prosecutors will threaten to charge you with indecent exposure, which is an offense requiring sex offender registration, to obtain a guilty plea for the lewd conduct charge.  It is important to have an attorney to fight your charge and defend the possibility of an indecent exposure charge because of the increased penalty that charge carries.

What are possible defenses to a lewd conduct charge?

There are several defenses that exist to a lewd conduct charge and they are based on the facts of each individual’s case.  Your attorney can use the facts to show that you weren’t in a public place or a place open to the public view, that you did not touch your private parts or that if you did it was not for sexual gratification, or he/she can assert the defense of entrapment.

What is the defense of entrapment?

Under California law, entrapment refers to a situation where a typically law abiding person is induced to commit a crime that he/she otherwise would not have committed. Entrapment only applies to overbearing law enforcement conduct, in the form of pressure, harassment, fraud, or threat.  The entrapment defense can be asserted in a lewd conduct case when the defendant is not predisposed to engage in such conduct, and he/she would not have engaged in the conduct alleged but for the police inducing him/her to engage in the conduct.

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Related Offenses

As discussed earlier, if you have been charged with lewd conduct you may face threats from the prosecution that without a plea of guilt, they will charge you with indecent exposure and possibly prostitution.  Both of these offenses may require sex offender registration.  Due to the increased punishment you would face on either charge it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney to defend your rights. 

Indecent Exposure Distinguished

Under the California Penal Code indecent exposure is defined as willfully exposing your genitals to another person, motivated the desire of sexual gratification for yourself or to offend another.[3]  A conviction for indecent exposure subjects you to a misdemeanor, which carries up to 6 months in the county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.  However, if you are facing a second conviction, the punishment increases to a felony offense.  If convicted a second time, you face a minimum of 16 months in the state prison and a maximum of 3 years.  Additionally, the court may fine you up to $10,000.  As a repeat offender, if you have a prior misdemeanor conviction for indecent exposure, you face a felony charge for your second regardless of how minor the second offense may be.

In California, there exists what is called “aggravated indecent exposure”.   This is a wobbler offense, meaning it may be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.  Indecent exposure is charged as an aggravated offense when you expose yourself in an inhabited home or building and you entered the home or building without permission.  The punishment for a misdemeanor is the same as a regular indecent exposure charge however the maximum jail sentence increases to 1 year.  If you are charged with felony aggravated indecent exposure you face a minimum of 16 months in the state prison and a maximum of 3 years.  Additionally, the court may fine you up to $10,000.

Some would argue the most damaging effect of an indecent exposure conviction is the sex offender registry requirement.  In California, sex offender registration is a lifelong requirement.  This can tarnish your reputation and the requirement never goes away.  It can greatly affect a defendant whose profession requires licensing, such as a nurse or doctor as you can face a revocation of your license with such a conviction.

A good criminal defense attorney knows the legal defenses to use in fighting an indecent exposure charge, whether it is your first or second offense.  A skilled attorney can assert these defenses on your behalf to obtain a reduced charge or a dismissal.  Whether you have been charged with lewd conduct and face the threat of an increased indecent exposure charge, or you have just been charged with indecent exposure you should consult an attorney immediately.

Prostitution Distinguished

The California Penal Code prohibits engaging in the act of prostitution and soliciting or agreeing to engage in the act of prostitution.[4]  Therefore, the prostitute, the customer and any other person involved in the solicitation are subject to arrest for prostitution in California.

For your first offense, prostitution is charged as a misdemeanor.  It carries up to 6 months in the county jail and a fine up to $1,000 or both.  While prostitution does not trigger an automatic sex offender registration requirement, a judge does have the discretion to order you to register as a sex offender as part of your judgment.

Just as with lewd conduct and indecent exposure, defenses exist to a prostitution charge.  An experienced attorney can assert lack of evidence or the defense of entrapment on your behalf.  Your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor to get your charge reduced or dismissed.

How We Can Help

If you have been arrested for lewd conduct and would like to learn more about what attorneys charge.

If you want to understand why its important to have an attorney represent you.

If you are ready to discuss a pending case with an attorney contact the Aizman Law Firm at 818-938-1274 for a free confidential consultation.

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 


  1. California Penal Code 647(a) -Who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view []