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What Are the Prostitution Laws in California?

Posted by Sam Israels | Feb 04, 2023

California Penal Code 647(b) generally defines prostitution as engaging in sexual conduct in exchange for money or other compensation. Therefore, under this law, it's a crime to commit prostitution or to solicit it.

In other words, it applies to someone who offers sexual services and the person who accepts them. Further, you don't have to complete the proposed sexual acts to be arrested, charged, and convicted for violating PC 647(b) prostitution laws.

California Penal Code 647(b) PC  - Solicitation of Prostitution

Further, to complete the crime of solicitation of prostitution as defined in Penal Code 647(b) PC, the perpetrator doesn't need to pay the agreed price to the prostitute.

Criminal charges can be filed against both the prostitute and the so-called “John,” who are their customers. In addition, many prostitutes will have a “pimp” which deals with their financial matters. Therefore, they will usually face criminal charges under the pimping and pandering laws defined under Penal Code 266h and 266i PC.

To be convicted for soliciting prostitution that allegedly violated PC 647(b), a prosecutor must prove certain factors called the “elements of the crime.” For example, they have to show that you asked somebody to engage in the act of prostitution, had the intent to carry it out, and the other person received the communication with your request.

There also must be an overt act, such as verbally discussing money in exchange for sex or making an ATM money withdrawal for sex. If convicted of violating this law, you could face a jail sentence of up to six months and a $1,000 fine.  

There has been a move to decriminalize prostitution in California. One reform under consideration is California Senate Bill SB 357, which would decriminalize loitering with the intent to commit prostitution. Let's review this state law in more detail below.

What Does the Law Say?

As noted, California Penal Code 647(b) says prostitution and solicitation is “Anyone who solicits or agrees to engage in, or who engages in, any act of prostitution with the intent to receive compensation, money, or anything of value from another person.”

California Penal Code 647(b) PC

Also, as noted, PC 647(b) covers both the acts of prostitution and solicitation, which makes it illegal to do any of the following:

  • Engage in the act of prostitution, such as sexual intercourse or lewd acts, in exchange for compensation;
  • Solicit an illegal act of prostitution;
  • Agree to an illegal act of prostitution.

As you can see from the definition, the language in the law is worded to hold both parties legally responsible for the act of prostitution and solicit or agree to it. This means the alleged prostitute and the person paying for sex can be charged for the same act.

Suppose a man approaches a woman on a street corner and asks her to have sex with him, and he will pay her $100. In that case, he could be charged with violating this statute.

What Are the Related Crimes for PC 647(b)?

There are several crimes are often charged in addition to PC 647(b) prostitution, such as the following:

  • Pimping and pandering under Penal Code 266h PC and 266i PC, which makes it a crime to profit from prostitution or to recruit someone. Both pimping and pandering are felony crimes punishable by up to six years in prison;
  • Human trafficking under Penal Code 236.1 PC prohibits using force, fraud, or coercion to compel someone person into prostitution and carries a prison sentence of up to 12 years;
  • Loitering with intent to commit prostitution under Penal Code 653.22 PC prohibits someone from loitering in a public place to commit prostitution;
  • Penal Code 266 PC - entice a child to prostitution;
  • Penal Code 314 PC – indecent exposure;
  • Penal Code 653.23 PC – supervise or aid prostitute;
  • Penal Code 647(a) PC – lewd conduct in public;
  • Penal Code 261.5 PC – statutory rape;
  • Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing.

What Are the Penalties for PC 647(b)?

Prostitution is a misdemeanor crime, and a conviction carries up to six months in county jail and up to a $1000 fine.

If convicted of subsequent violations of this law, the maximum penalty in county jail time is the same, but California law lists mandatory minimum jail punishments, including:  

  • Second offense carries a mandatory minimum 45-day county jail sentence;
  • Third or more offenses carry a mandatory minimum 90-day jail sentence.

Suppose the prostitution crime happened while you were in a vehicle and within 1000 feet of a residential structure. In that case, the legal penalties can include additional penalties of either a 30-day driver's license suspension or a six-month driver's license restriction.

What Are Defenses Against PC 647(b)?

There are several common strategies our California criminal defense lawyers can use to fight charges of prostitution, which are discussed below.

Perhaps we can argue police entrapment. Law enforcement officers often set up prostitution sting operations posing as prostitutes to catch "johns" seeking to engage.

If an undercover cop applies undue pressure to commit a crime, you wouldn't have otherwise committed; it's considered entrapment.

Defenses Against Prostitution Charges

Perhaps we can argue that there is insufficient evidence. To prove prostitution occurred, prosecutors have to prove there was willfulness on the part of the accused. Maybe the prosecution can't prove you agreed and thus have insufficient evidence to convict you.

Perhaps we can argue that you were falsely accused. Maybe you were wrongfully arrested and charged with prostitution. Possibly we can uncover evidence that you didn't commit the crime and should not be convicted.

Perhaps we can make an argument that you were only looking for sex and never had the intent to provide some compensation for it. But, on the other hand, maybe we can argue that you didn't know they were a prostitute.

In prostitution cases, intent can sometimes be challenged. For example, perhaps there was a lack of understanding due to a language barrier. Maybe it's unclear what acts were discussed and whether there was an agreement.

Perhaps through prefiling intervention, we can negotiate and persuade the prosecutor not to file formal criminal charges, called a “DA reject.” For a free initial case review, you can contact our law firm via phone or the contact form. Cron, Israels & Stark is located in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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