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What Are the Prostitution Laws?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 21, 2022

In California, prostitution is defined in Penal Code 647(b) PC as engaging in sexual conduct in exchange for money or other compensation. It is a crime both to commit prostitution and to solicit it.

In other words, the crime applies both to the person who offers sexual services and the person who accepts them. You do not have to complete the proposed sexual acts to be arrested, charged, and convicted of PC 647(b) prostitution.

What Are the Prostitution Laws in California?
Penal Code 647(b) is the primary statute used to charge someone with the crime of prostitution.

This statute can be filed against both the prostitute and the “John,” who are their customers. Many prostitutes have “pimps” that handle business and financial issues, but they are usually prosecuted under Penal Code 266h and 266i PC pimping and pandering laws.

For a prosecutor to obtain a conviction against you for soliciting prostitution in violation of PC 647(b), they have first to prove that you asked someone to engage in the act of prostitution, had intent to carry it out, and that other person received the communication with your request.

Further, there must be some overt act, such as discussing money in exchange for sexual acts or making an ATM money withdrawal for sex.

If you are convicted of violating this law, you could face sentencing of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.  Based on the circumstances, you may also be charged and convicted of related prostitution crimes. Our California criminal defense lawyers will examine this topic in more detail below.

Penal Code 647(b) PC Explained

California Penal Code 647(b) defines prostitution and solicitation as “Anyone who solicits, or who 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 647(b) makes it a crime for someone to offer sexual activity for money and for a person to accept it.

As noted above, PC 647(b) covers both the acts of prostitution and solicitation. Effectively, it makes it a crime to do any of the following:

  • Engage in the act of prostitution i.e., sexual intercourse or other lewd acts in exchange for compensation;
  • Solicit an act of prostitution;
  • Agree to an act of prostitution.

The law is worded to hold both parties legally accountable for the act of prostitution and soliciting or agreeing to it.

That means both the prostitute, the person receiving payment for sex, and the "john,” the person paying for sex, can be charged with the same crime for the same act.

What Are Some Examples?

  • A woman propositioning a man to fondle her private parts for a price;
  • A man asking a woman on the street corner "how much" to perform an act of fellatio;
  • A man approaches another man in a public restroom and offers to perform a sex act for money;
  • A man offering to give a woman drugs in exchange for sex;
  • A man is accepting a woman's offer of sex for money.

What Are the Penalties for Prostitution Conviction?

Prostitution is a misdemeanor offense in California. If you are convicted of soliciting, agreeing to, or engaging in prostitution, you could face up to 6 months in jail and up to a $1000 fine. The possible penalty is the same for the person offering sex and the person paying for it.

If convicted of subsequent violations, the maximum penalty in county jail time remains the same, but California law has mandatory minimum jail punishments, such as the following:

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

Suppose the prostitution offense occurred while you were in a vehicle and within 1000 feet of a residential structure? In that case, the penalties could include an additional punishment of either a 30-day driver's license suspension or six months driver's license restriction.

What Are the Related Offenses?

Several primary crimes are often charged in connection with prostitution, including the following:

  • Pimping and pandering: Penal Code 266h PC and 266i PC make it a crime to profit from the prostitution of another person or to recruit someone into prostitution. Both pimping and pandering are felony offenses punishable by up to 6 years in prison;
  • Human trafficking: Penal Code 236.1 PC prohibits using force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person into prostitution. This crime is a felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison;
  • Loitering with intent to commit prostitution: Penal Code 653.22 PC makes it a crime to loiter in a public place to commit prostitution. This crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail;
  • Penal Code 261.5 PC – statutory rape;
  • Penal Code 647(a) PC – lewd conduct in public;
  • Penal Code 314 PC – indecent exposure;
  • Penal Code 653.23 PC – supervise or aid prostitute;
  • Penal Code 602 PC – trespassing;
  • Penal Code 415 PC – disturbing the peace.

Efforts to Reform Prostitution Laws in California

Recently, there has been a move to decriminalize prostitution in California as in other parts of the United States.

Part of the rationale for this push is that it may help to curb the epidemic of human trafficking because perpetrators often use fear of arrest as a manipulation tool to keep their trafficking victims under control.

One of the more tangible reforms under consideration in California is Senate Bill 357, which would effectively decriminalize loitering with the intent to commit prostitution. This bill is still making its way through the legislative process and has not yet been signed into law.

What Are the Common Defenses to Charges of Prostitution?

There are several common defense strategies attorneys can use to fight charges of prostitution, especially if you're accused of agreeing to an act of solicitation. The most common include:

  • Entrapment. Law enforcement officers frequently set up prostitution sting operations, often posing as prostitutes with the intent of catching "johns" seeking to engage. For example, it's not entrapment if you already intend to hire a prostitute. Still, if an undercover cop applies undue pressure to commit a crime you wouldn't have customarily committed, it's considered entrapment. If your attorney can prove entrapment occurred, you can't be convicted of the crime.
  • Insufficient evidence. To prove a prostitution crime occurred, prosecutors must show willfulness on the part of the accused. Defense attorneys can often argue that you disagreed with the act you're charged with. If the prosecution can't prove you did agree, they have insufficient evidence to convict.
  • Falsely accused. It's not uncommon for people to be wrongfully charged with prostitution by someone else—quite commonly out of spite or a desire for retribution. If you can provide evidence that you didn't commit the crime or that someone else is responsible, you should not be convicted.

Perhaps we can argue you were only seeking to have a sexual encounter. Still, there was never any intent to engage in sexual activity in exchange for some compensation. Likewise, we might argue you didn't know they were a prostitute.

Common Defenses to Charges of Prostitution
We can use several common legal defenses to challenge charges of prostitution or related crimes.

In prostitution cases, the defendant's intent could reasonably be challenged, even during a police sting operation.  For example, perhaps there was a lack of understanding due to a language barrier or other factors that show it was unclear what acts were discussed and whether there was an agreement.

To complete the crime of solicitation of prostitution under Penal Code 647(b) PC, the defendant doesn't need to pay the agreed price to the prostitute.

If you or a family member was arrested and charged with prostitution or solicitation of prostitution, contact our experienced legal team for an initial consultation. 

Through a legal process called prefiling intervention, we might be able to negotiate and prevent the formal filing of criminal charges before court. Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm in Los Angeles County, California. Contact our office at (877) 781-1570 or use the contact form.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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