Fighting Sex in Public Charges

by David Hakimfar

Planes, trains, cemeteries and confessionals? These are just some of the places where people have been caught having sexual encounters in recent news. There will always be those people who enjoy living life on the proverbial “edge.” According to various online studies, up to a 25% of respondents reported having had sex in a public place.

Yet, while these folks have dared their senses into some imaginative and sometimes dangerous public places, it may lead to trouble with the law. While it may seem harmless in the heat of the moment, there are real dangers and potentially expensive, long-lasting, and in some cases, life-changing consequences if you are busted in the act.

In California, Penal Code 647(a) makes it a crime “to engage in or to solicit anyone to engage in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view”. This act is most often charged using undercover cops as “bait” in public locations (such as bathrooms and parks). Undercover cops typically target and “bait” gay men into exposing themselves, masturbating, or proposing some other sexual act. Many times, the officer has engaged in entrapment and the suspect has done no wrong.

Public sex is, by law, defined as sexual acts or forms of exhibition that take place in public or other “semi-public” places. Under California Penal Code 647(a), it can occur in a public place, a place open to the public, or a place exposed to public view. California courts have found “public” to include, among other places, an automobile, motorcycle, a common hallway in an apartment building, the area behind the service counter in a men’s clothing store, a car parked on a public street, a private movie booth at an adult bookstore, and a massage parlor. For example, the backseat of a car may not seem especially public, but if a passerby can see you or you are otherwise visible to the public, you can be arrested and charged with a crime. The truly creative have been caught in places as diverse as public libraries, tram cars, amusement park rides and, as mentioned earlier, a church confessional in Rome!

While it might be argued that some of these places may not have been truly “public,” California law applies the public standard in such a way that any place other than your home, hotel room or your personal office can be construed as a public place. So, before you get it on in your backyard or that big picture window facing the canyon, you might want to pull the drapes or find a safer alternative.

As far as the definition of a sexual act is concerned, these too are covered by a broad spectrum of laws and statutes that can be interpreted in different ways. These can range from charges of indecent exposure to lewd acts in public. In most cases these are misdemeanors, but can be escalated to felony charges for multiple offenses. For felony convictions, most offenders will face prison time and be required to register as a sexual offender.

Because the laws covering these crimes are complex, if you are arrested on a charge related to sex in public, it’s important that you contact an attorney immediately to discuss your options and how best to defend against consequences that could follow you for a lifetime.

David Hakimfar is a senior trial attorney with Hakimfar Law, PLC in West Hollywood, CA where his practice focuses on Civil Litigation and Consumer Rights, and a member of Pride Legal. He can be reached at (310) 730-1250, or through Pride Legal 888-789-7743.