In California, engaging in or soliciting prostitution is considered a criminal offense under Penal Code § 647(b) PC. Prostitution is defined as the exchange of sexual intercourse or lewd conduct for compensation
- A man committing the offense of 647(b) PC by proposing drugs to a woman in exchange for a sexual act.
- A woman engaging in an act of prostitution by accepting money from a man in exchange for allowing him to fondle her breasts.
- A police officer violating 647(b) PC by accepting an offer from a woman to exchange sexual favors for avoiding a traffic ticket.
When representing clients facing solicitation and prostitution charges, criminal defense lawyers often use various legal strategies to contest the charges. Some common strategies include demonstrating that:
- there is a lack of evidence to support a conviction
- you were entrapped, and/or
- you were falsely accused.
If one violates 647(b) PC, they will be charged with a misdemeanor offense and may face penalties: (as opposed to a felony or an infraction). The crime is punishable by:
- up to six months in jail time, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000
This article will cover the legal definitions of “prostitution” and “solicitation” under California law, and provide a detailed explanation.
1. Legal Definitions of Prostitution and Solicitation under California Law”
Under California Penal Code 647b, there are three specific types of acts that are prohibited:
- engaging in an act of prostitution
- soliciting an act of prostitution, and
- agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution
In the context of all three of these acts, “prostitution” refers to engaging in sexual intercourse or performing a lewd act with another individual in exchange for:
- money or
- other compensation
Under California law, a “lewd act” or “lewd conduct” refers to touching another person’s genitals, buttocks, or female breast with the intent of:
- sexual arousal or
- sexual gratification
1.1 Engaging in an act of prostitution
To be considered engaging in prostitution under California law, an individual must:
- Willingly and intentionally engage in sexual intercourse or a lewd act with another person; and
- Do so in exchange for money or some other form of compensation.
In California, the term “willfully” means that an individual engaged in a particular act knowingly and intentionally, without necessarily requiring a specific intent to violate the law.
1.2 Soliciting an act of prostitution
To solicit prostitution under California law, an individual must:
- Request that another person engage in an act of prostitution; and
- Have the intention of engaging in an act of prostitution with the other person.
To be convicted of solicitation under California law, it is necessary to demonstrate that an individual had a clear and unequivocal intention of engaging in an act of prostitution.
The following are not acts showing a clear intent to commit prostitution:
- being present in a known area of prostitution,
- waving to a passing vehicle,
- nodding to a stranger, or
- standing on a street corner in a miniskirt
Example: Lena is an undercover police officer conducting a prostitution sting operation. She is dressed provocatively and standing on a street corner known for prostitution activity. John drives by Lena and honks his horn. Lena approaches the car, and John offers her $100 in exchange for oral sex. He shows her the cash to demonstrate his intent. However, if John were to make the same offer as a joke or prank, without actually intending to engage in prostitution, he would not be guilty of solicitation. This is because he did not have a clear and unequivocal intention of engaging in the act of prostitution.
1.3 Agreeing to engage in prostitution
Under PC 647b, a prosecutor has to prove the following to successfully secure a conviction for “agreeing” to engage in prostitution:
- up to six months in county jail, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.
In practice, judges frequently opt for misdemeanor (also referred to as “summary” or “informal”) probation, which typically involves minimal or no jail time.
Conditions of PC 647a probation often include:
- REQUESTED, SOLICITED, OR AGREED: You requested, solicited, or agreed to engage in an act of prostitution with another person.
- INTENT: You intended to engage in an act of prostitution with that person
- RECEIVED THE COMMUNICATION: The other person received the communication containing the request, solicitation, or agreement
It should be noted that simply accepting an offer or solicitation does not constitute a violation of this law, unless the person accepting the offer or solicitation actually performs an act to engage in prostitution. With regard to the third element, this additional “something” is more than just agreeing or accepting a solicitation.
Example: Defendant John, a potential client, is driving along Western Avenue looking for a sex worker. He spots Mary, a sex worker, and pulls over to ask her how much she charges for her services. Mary responds, “$200 for a half-hour.” Undercover Cop, who is observing the interaction from a nearby location, arrests John for agreeing to engage in prostitution under CPC §647(b)(1). John argues that he never actually engaged in any prostitution and was just inquiring about prices.
Conclusion: While John did not actually engage in prostitution, the act of agreeing to engage in prostitution is sufficient to constitute a violation of CPC §647(b)(1). By agreeing to pay Mary $200 for her services, John demonstrated his intent to engage in prostitution. Thus, the prosecutor may successfully secure a conviction for “agreeing” to engage in prostitution against John.
Few more Examples include:
- Making the agreed-upon payment to the other person constitutes an act of engaging in prostitution, and thus satisfies the elements of CPC §647(b)(1).
- Withdrawing money from an ATM in order to pay the other person is an action taken towards engaging in prostitution and can satisfy the elements of CPC §647(b)(1).
- Driving to an agreed-upon location where the sexual activity will take place is an act demonstrating intent to engage in prostitution, and can fulfill the elements of CPC §647(b)(1).
- Instructing a customer who has accepted a solicitation to undress is an action taken towards engaging in prostitution and can fulfill the elements of CPC §647(b)(1).
2. What are the penalties for Solicitation of Prostitution in California?
A misdemeanor offense is what you can expect if you are convicted under California’s solicitation and prostitution laws, specifically PC 647b.
If it’s your first time being charged under the statute, the punishment for violating PC 647b can include:
- imprisonment in county jail (not state prison) for a maximum of six months, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000
If you’re facing charges for a second or subsequent offense under the statute, the penalties can be more severe.
- For a second offense, there is a mandatory minimum of 45 days in county jail
- while for a third offense, the mandatory minimum increases to 90 days in county jail
Additionally, in certain situations, a judge may choose to suspend your driver’s license for a period of up to 30 days.
It’s important to note that some California sex crimes or sex acts convictions can result in mandatory sex offender registration under Penal Code 290. However, if you’re convicted of prostitution or solicitation, sex offender registration is not mandatory.
3. Legal defenses to PC 647b charges
In cases involving solicitation and prostitution, it is possible to challenge the allegations against you by presenting a legal defense. There are three common defenses that can be used to challenge these charges, including:
- Insufficient evidence to support a California prostitution or solicitation charge can be a defense to challenge the prosecution’s case, where the evidence presented is not enough to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the offense.
- The defense of entrapment can be raised if law enforcement induced or coerced the defendant to commit the crime. This defense asserts that the defendant would not have engaged in the criminal conduct but for the actions of law enforcement.
- The defense of false accusations can be raised when the defendant is wrongly accused of prostitution or solicitation, either due to mistaken identity, false allegations, or other reasons. This defense challenges the credibility of the accuser and aims to prove that the defendant did not engage in the alleged criminal conduct.
3.1 Insufficient evidence
When evidence is insufficient, it implies that a prosecutor does not have the complete set of evidence necessary to secure a conviction for solicitation or prostitution. As a result, the jury may hold reasonable doubts about the defendant’s guilt, given the partial evidence available.
For example, in a solicitation case, maybe a prosecutor:
- can show that you requested another person to engage in prostitution, but
- cannot show that you intended to engage in an act of prostitution.
If you’re facing charges for prostitution or solicitation following an undercover sting, you may be able to use entrapment as a defense. Entrapment involves the police using excessive or coercive tactics to induce you to commit a crime. To use this defense successfully, you must prove that you only engaged in the actions that led to the PC 647b offense due to the undercover police officer’s entrapment.
3.3 Falsely accused
It’s unfortunate that false accusations occur frequently under the prostitution/solicitation statute. Jealousy or revenge may motivate someone to make a false accusation against you. However, regardless of the reason, you can use the defense that you were wrongly accused to fight the charges.
4. Related offenses
There are a total of five crimes related to solicitation and prostitution, which are:
- human trafficking – PC 236.1
- pimping – PC 266h
- pandering – PC 266i,
- loitering with the intent to commit prostitution – PC 653.22 (now repealed)
- supervising or aiding a prostitute – PC 653.23
4.1 Human trafficking – PC 236.1
Under CPC §236.1(a), Human Trafficking occurs when someone intentionally deprives or violates another person’s personal liberty with the aim of forcing them to work or provide services. This includes sexual exploitation of both adults and minors. This crime is closely related to Soliciting Prostitution since trafficked individuals are often coerced into prostitution. This permits the prosecution to charge you with both offenses in the same trial.
In the event that you’re convicted of Human Trafficking, the penalty can include
- a sentence of up to twelve (12) years in a state prison,
- a fine of up to $500,000 (five-hundred-thousand dollars)
- or both a fine and imprisonment.
Jury Instructions for Human Trafficking in California
To secure a conviction under CPC §236.1(a), the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- You either deprived or violated another person’s personal liberty.
- At the time you acted, you had the intention of obtaining forced labor or services.
- Alternatively, at the time you acted, you had the intention of committing or perpetuating a felony crime.
Example: John forcibly abducts a woman, Jane, and takes her to a remote location. He threatens to harm her family if she doesn’t engage in sexual acts with him. Jane complies, and John releases her afterward. Jane reports the incident to the authorities, and John is charged with Human Trafficking under CPC §236.1(a). During the trial, John argues that he did not intend to obtain forced labor or services from Jane, so he can’t be guilty of Human Trafficking. Is he correct?
Conclusion: John deprived Jane of her personal liberty by forcibly abducting her, which is an element of the charge. Additionally, John’s threat of harm to Jane’s family if she didn’t engage in sexual acts with him can be construed as obtaining forced services. Therefore, John is incorrect, as he had the intent to obtain forced labor or services from Jane when he acted.
4.2 Pimping – PC 266h
Pimping (CPC §266h(a)) is a crime that involves obtaining support or maintenance from the earnings of someone’s prostitution. This law also applies to receiving earnings from loans, advances, or debts charged against that person by any person keeping a house where prostitution is practiced or allowed. It also applies to individuals who receive compensation for soliciting for a prostitute. The offense of pimping is related to soliciting prostitution since pimps obtain income from prostitution activities. This means that you may face charges for both crimes in the same trial.
Penalties for a conviction of Pimping may include:
- A prison term of up to six (6) years in a state prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Both a fine and imprisonment.
Jury Instructions for Pimping in California
To secure a conviction under CPC §266h(a), the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You knew that the person was a prostitute
- The money or earnings obtained by that person through prostitution wholly or partially supported you.
- The money loaned to, advanced to, or charged against the prostitute by someone who managed or was a prostitute in a place where prostitution was conducted wholly or partially supported you.
- You solicited customers on behalf of a prostitute and received payment for doing so.
Example: Defendant Max provides a place for sex workers to operate. He charges them rent for the space and also takes a percentage of their earnings. Max argues that he is just providing a place for them to work and it’s not his fault that they choose to engage in prostitution. However, Max is facing a charge under §266h. Should Max be convicted, considering the facts as he describes them?
Conclusion: Max derives support from sex workers who engage in prostitution in his place of business. He takes a percentage of their earnings, which is an element of the charge. Max’s argument that he is merely providing a space for them to work does not change the fact that he is deriving income from their prostitution. Under California law, Max is a pimp and he should be convicted.
4.3 Pandering – PC 266i
Pandering (CPC §266i(a)) is the act of persuading, encouraging, or inducing another person to become a prostitute, or to perform acts as a prostitute. This offense is related to Soliciting Prostitution since pandering often precedes prostitution activities, which may enable the prosecution to charge you with both crimes in a single trial
Upon conviction of Pandering under CPC §266i(a), the penalty may include:
- a term of imprisonment for up to six (6) years in a state prison
- a fine of up to $10,000 (ten-thousand dollars)
- or both a fine and imprisonment
Jury Instructions for Pandering in California
To secure a conviction under CPC §266i(a), the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You successfully convinced, procured, or induced someone to become a prostitute; OR
- You used coercion, either through promises, threats, or violence, to compel someone to become a prostitute; OR
- You arranged or procured a position for someone to engage in prostitution, either in a house of prostitution or another location where prostitution is practiced or encouraged; OR
- You used fraud, trickery, duress, or abuse of a position of trust or authority to persuade or procure someone to engage in prostitution or enter any location where prostitution is practiced or encouraged; OR
- You received, agreed to receive, gave, or agreed to give money or anything of value in exchange for persuading, attempting to persuade, procuring, or attempting to procure someone to engage in prostitution, and you intended to influence that person to do so.
Example: Jack is a talent agent who promises to provide a job to a struggling actress if she agrees to perform sexual acts with a director. Jack convinces the actress that this is a common practice in the entertainment industry and that it will help her career. The actress eventually agrees, and Jack arranges for her to meet with the director. However, the director turns out to be an undercover police officer, and Jack is arrested and charged with pandering under California Penal Code Section 266i.
Conclusion: Jack committed the crime of pandering by soliciting and inducing the actress to engage in prostitution. His promise of a job in exchange for sexual acts is a clear example of pandering. Even if the job offer was genuine, using it as a tool to coerce the actress into prostitution is illegal. Therefore, Jack should be convicted of pandering.
4.4 Loitering with the intent to commit prostitution – PC 653.22 (now repealed)
The crime of loitering with the intent to commit prostitution, as defined under CPC §653.22(a)(1), involves lingering in any public place with the intention of engaging in prostitution. This can be proven by engaging in behaviors that clearly demonstrate the intent to solicit or arrange for prostitution with another individual.
It is possible that if a person is found guilty of Loitering with the Intent to Commit Prostitution, they may face:
- a maximum penalty of six (6) months in a county jail
- a fine of up to $1,000
- or both a fine and imprisonment.
Jury Instructions for Loitering with the Intention of Committing Prostitution in California.
In order to secure a conviction under CPC §653.22(a)(1), the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That you remained or loitered in a public area without a valid reason for your presence
- That your actions, whether by speech or conduct, conveyed an intention to engage in prostitution.
Example: Donice, the defendant, was standing on a street corner on Western Avenue one night, wearing shorts and a mini-T-shirt, having just left a nightclub. As her Uber appeared, Donice began jumping up and waving her arms to get the driver’s attention. At that moment, a vice cop observed her and concluded that she was loitering with the intent to commit prostitution. Donice was charged under CPC §653.22(a)(1). Is she guilty?
Conclusion: Although Donice lingered in a public place, it is the only element of the crime present. Although there were several pieces of evidence suggesting that she might have been loitering illegally, such as waving her arms, being dressed provocatively, and standing in an area known for prostitution, she was not on the corner for that purpose. Donice was simply waiting for her ride, and therefore, she is innocent.
4.5 Supervising or aiding a prostitute – PC 653.23
CPC §§653.23(a)(1),(2) criminalizes the act of supervising or aiding a prostitute by directing, recruiting, or supervising another person to violate Section 647(b) or Section 653.22(a). Moreover, the statute also prohibits the collection or receipt of proceeds from prostitution activities committed by another person in violation of CPC §647(b). The offense of Supervising/Aiding a Prostitute is closely related to Soliciting Prostitution since aiding in prostitution can lead to a joint trial for both offenses.
In case of a conviction for Supervising/Aiding a Prostitute, the potential penalties may include:
- A sentence of up to six (6) months in a county jail; OR
- A maximum fine of $1,000 (one-thousand dollars); OR
- Both imprisonment and a fine can be imposed.
Jury Instructions for Supervising or Aiding a Prostitute in California
To secure a conviction under CPC §§653.23(a)(1),(2), the prosecution must establish the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That you directed, supervised, recruited, or aided another person to violate Section 647(b) or Section 653.22(a); OR
- That you collected or received proceeds from prostitution activities committed by another person in violation of CPC §647(b).
Example: Defendant John admits he took money from a Prostitute and dropped it off with a Pimp. John is paid only to take money from one person to the other. However, he’s now facing a charge under CPC §652.23(a)(2). John does not believe that he can be guilty of the charge on these facts. Is he correct?
Conclusion: John needn’t direct, supervise, or recruit prostitutes in order to violate the Code Section. He knowingly collected proceeds from someone who was committing a violation of Section 647(b). He then took these proceeds from one person to another. This is sufficient for conviction. By collecting proceeds earned from sex work, John aided in prostitution within the meaning of the statute.
5. Status of Prostitution Legalization Efforts in California?
There were recent efforts in California to decriminalize some aspects of prostitution. For instance, in 2021, the California Senate passed Senate Bill 357, which would have repealed PC 653.22 (loitering with the intent to commit prostitution). However, it is important to note that this bill was ultimately vetoed by the Governor and did not become law. There are still ongoing debates and discussions around the decriminalization or legalization of prostitution in California and elsewhere.
Some lawmakers have proposed legalizing prostitution in California as a strategy to combat human trafficking. The argument is that if prostitution were legal, pimps would no longer be able to use the threat of arrest as leverage to force trafficking victims into prostitution. Other states, such as Maine and Oregon, are also considering proposals to legalize prostitution. However, it is worth noting that the legalization of prostitution remains a controversial and heavily debated topic, with supporters and opponents on both sides of the issue.
6. How does the passage of Senate Bill 233 protect sex workers?
Since 2020, carrying condoms can no longer be considered as probable cause by the police to suspect someone of engaging in prostitution and then arrest you for:
- loitering, or
- public nuisance
With the removal of the use of condoms as probable cause, the number of prostitution arrests may decrease, providing sex workers with a greater sense of safety and security in carrying condoms without fear of incrimination.
SB 233 also provides immunity to sex workers from certain low-level criminal charges when they report serious crimes to the police. Before the passing of this bill, sex workers who were victims of or witnesses to serious crimes may have hesitated to contact the police due to the fear of being prosecuted for committing or soliciting prostitution, engaging in loitering with the intent to commit prostitution, creating a public nuisance, engaging in lewd conduct, or committing a misdemeanor drug offense (Penal Code 647(b) PC, Penal Code 653.22 PC, Penal Code 372 PC, Penal Code 647(a) PC).
Now, you are protected from being charged with any of the above crimes when you report either:
- any serious felony
- certain serious types of assault, such as: assault with a deadly weapon (Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC), assault with a firearm (Penal Code 245(a)(2) PC), and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury (Penal Code 245(a)(4) PC)
- human trafficking (Penal Code 236.1 PC)
- sexual battery (Penal Code 243.4 PC)
- stalking (Penal Code 646.9 PC)
- domestic violence causing a corporal injury (Penal Code 275.5 PC), or
- extortion (Penal Code 518 PC)
This new law gives you a greater incentive to report pimps and johns who may be abusing you or others.
7. What Can I Do If I’m Charged With Soliciting Prostitution?
Soliciting Prostitution is considered a severe offense in California, and if you’re charged with it, it’s crucial to hire a competent criminal defense lawyer immediately. Your freedom, rights, and career could be jeopardized, and only an experienced attorney can help protect them.
It’s important to keep in mind that hiring an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney can have several benefits, including the ability to:
- Negotiate a plea bargain for a reduced charge
- Secure a lighter sentence
- Potentially get the charges dropped entirely
If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with Soliciting Prostitution under Penal Code 647(b) in Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Beverly Hills, Ventura County, Riverside, San Fernando, Burbank, Santa Monica or Orange County, our criminal defense lawyers are available to assist you. With our top-rated legal expertise, we will evaluate your case and devise the most effective strategy for achieving the best possible outcome.
Time is of the essence, so we recommend contacting you as soon as possible. We may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss your charges before the court date. Additionally, you may be eligible for a diversion program that can help you avoid a criminal conviction and maintain a clean record.
If you need a reliable sex crime defense lawyer in Los Angeles, Southern California, contact Tabibnia Law Firm. We offer a free immediate response when you call us at 866-713-2159, or you can reach us online. Let us examine your case and provide the skilled legal representation you deserve.