Loitering at a School or Public Place Where Children Congregate
Penal Code 653b PC

Under California Penal Code 653b PC, you can face criminal charges in California for loitering at either:

  • Any school; or
  • Any public place at or near which children normally congregate (such as a playground or public pool).1

But it is important to note that you are only guilty of the crime of loitering at a school or place where children congregate if:

  1. You did not have any lawful purpose for being at that place;and
  2. You intended to commit a crime—such as Penal Code 278 PC child abduction or Health & Safety Code 11352 HS drug sales—at that place if the opportunity arose.3
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    PC 653b makes it a crime to loiter either at a school or at another public place where children congregate.
The legal definition of loitering at a school

The formal legal definition of loitering at a school or public place under PC 653b is as follows:

  1. You loitered and remained at any school or public place at or near which children normally congregate, OR you reentered such a place within seventy-two (72) hours after being asked to leave by a designated official;4
  2. You had no lawful business for being present at that place;5 and
  3. You intended to commit a crime at that place if the opportunity arose.6

A “designated official” means any of the following:

  • The chief administrative official of the school (such as the principal) or the person acting as the chief administrative official in his/her absence;
  • A member of the school district security patrol authorized in writing by the chief administrative official to perform this duty;
  • A city police officer or sheriff or deputy sheriff; or
  • A California Highway Patrol officer.7

Example: After viewing lots of child pornography online, Chris decides he would like to make his own. He goes to a middle school near his house with a video camera, hoping to shoot some footage of the kids at the school that he can use in pornographic videos.

Some teachers notice Chris lingering outside the school shooting footage of the kids, and they tell the principal. The principal asks Chris to leave, and he does.

But the next day Chris comes back and beings filming the kids again.

Chris is guilty of loitering at a school under California Penal Code 653b PC.

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You are only guilty of loitering at a school if you intended to commit a crime if the opportunity arose.

The last two elements of the legal definition of loitering at a school listed above are very important. You are NOT guilty of this offense if you had a lawful reason to be at the school and/or had no intention of committing a crime.

Example: Scott is 18. Because his parents work long hours, he frequently picks up his younger sister from an after-school program at a park at the end of the day.

Scott also sells small amounts of marijuana to friends and acquaintances to make extra money. Sometimes he carries small bags of marijuana with him when he goes to pick up his sister, hoping one of the friends will ask if they can buy some from him.

Scott may be guilty of possession of drugs for sale. But he is probably not guilty of loitering at a school or public place—because he did have a lawful purpose for being at the park (picking up his sister) and so was not loitering.

Example: Roberta is involved in a political campaign opposing certain changes in education policy in her city. She often visits a local high school and distributes pamphlets to the students there, hoping they will become involved in the campaign too.

The principal of the high school has repeatedly asked Roberta to leave, but she keeps coming back anyway.

Roberta is not guilty of loitering at a school because she was exercising her First Amendment right to free speech and did not intend to commit a crime at the school.8

Penalties for Penal Code 653b

Loitering at a school or public place where children congregate is a misdemeanor in California law.9

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PC 653b loitering at a school is a California misdemeanor.

The potential penalties include up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).10

However, the penalties increase if you are required to register as a sex offender under California's sex offender registration law. In that case, the potential penalties are as follows:

  1. For a first conviction for loitering at a school, up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).
  2. For a second conviction of PC 653b, at least ten (10) days and up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).
  3. For a third or subsequent conviction, at least ninety (90) days and up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).11

Penal Code 653b PC also provides for harsher penalties for defendants who are required to register with the police because of a prior conviction for Penal Code 186.22 PC California's criminal street gang law or anther gang-related conviction.12

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People required to register as sex offenders face harsher penalties for loitering at a school.

These defendants face the following penalties:

  1. For a first conviction, up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).
  2. For a second conviction, at least ten (10) days and up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).
  3. For a third or subsequent conviction, up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or a fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000); the court is required to consider a minimum imprisonment period of at least ninety (90) days.13
Legal defenses against charges of loitering at a school

According to Santa Clarita criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse14:

“One of the most common legal defenses to Penal Code 653b PC charges is that you had a lawful reason for being at the school or other public place, or did not have the intent to commit a crime there. Police often arrest people who are perceived as ‘annoying' or ‘sketchy' and threaten them with charges for this offense. But just being present at a school or park—and even behaving in an annoying or suspicious way there—is not enough to make you guilty of loitering at a school.”

If the prosecutor cannot prove that you had the intent to commit a crime at the school or public place if the opportunity arose, your criminal defense attorney may be able to get PC 653b charges reduced to a less serious offense like disturbing the peace—or dismissed altogether.

Call us for help…
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For questions about the crime of Penal Code 653b PC loitering at a school or other place where children congregate, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

To learn about Nevada laws on "loitering near a school," please see our page on Nevada laws on "loitering near a school."

Legal References:


1 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses. (“(a) Except as provided in subdivision (b) or (c), every person who loiters about any school or public place at or near which children attend or normally congregate and who remains at any school or public place at or near which children attend or normally congregate, or who reenters or comes upon a school or place within 72 hours, after being asked to leave by the chief administrative official of that school or, in the absence of the chief administrative official, the person acting as the chief administrative official, or by a member of the security patrol of the school district who has been given authorization, in writing, by the chief administrative official of that school to act as his or her agent in performing this duty, or a city police officer, or sheriff or deputy sheriff, or Department of the California Highway Patrol peace officer is a vagrant, and is punishable by a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.”)

2 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses. (“(d) As used in this section, “loiter” means to delay, to linger, or to idle about a school or public place without lawful business for being present.”)

3 Mandel v. Mun. Court for Oakland-Piedmont Judicial Dist., Alameda Cty. (1969) 276 Cal.App.2d 649, 654-55. (“Therefore as we construe the statute before us [PC 653b], persons who merely sit on park benches, loll on public beaches, pause in the vicinity of schools or linger in the many public areas frequented by children cannot be reasonably considered as loitering within the compass of the statute. It is only when the loitering is of such a nature that from the totality of the person's actions and in the light of the prevailing circumstances, it may be reasonably concluded that it is being engaged in ‘for the purpose of committing a crime as opportunity may be discovered' (In re Cregler, supra) that such conduct falls within the statute.”)

4 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses, subsection (a), endnote 1 above.

5 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses, subsection (d), endnote 2 above.

6 Mandel v. Mun. Court for Oakland-Piedmont Judicial Dist., Alameda Cty., endnote 3 above.

7 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses, subsection (a), endnote 1 above.

8 Based on the facts of Mandel v. Mun. Court for Oakland-Piedmont Judicial Dist., Alameda Cty., endnote 3 above.

9 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses, subsection (a), endnote 1 above.

10 Same.

11 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses. (“(b) Every person required to register as a sex offender who violates subdivision (a) shall be punished as follows: (1) Upon a first conviction, by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment. (2) If the defendant has been previously convicted once of a violation of this section or former Section 653g, by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not less than 10 days or more than six months, or by both imprisonment and a fine of not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), and shall not be released on probation, parole, or any other basis until he or she has served at least 10 days. (3) If the defendant has been previously convicted two or more times of a violation of this section or former Section 653g, by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not less than 90 days or more than six months, or by both imprisonment and a fine of not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), and shall not be released on probation, parole, or any other basis until he or she has served at least 90 days.”)

12 Penal Code 653b PC – Loitering about schools or public places; punishment; registered sex offenders; persons registered for criminal street gang related offenses. (“(c) Any person required to register with the chief of police or sheriff pursuant to Section 186.30 who violates subdivision (a) shall be punished as follows: (1) Upon first conviction, by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. (2) Upon a second conviction, by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. The court shall consider a period of imprisonment of at least 10 days. (3) If the defendant has been previously convicted two or more times, by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment. The court shall consider a period of imprisonment of at least 90 days.”)

See also Penal Code 186.30 PC – Conviction of crimes regarding criminal street gangs; registration with police chief or sheriff. (“(a) Any person described in subdivision (b) shall register with the chief of police of the city in which he or she resides, or the sheriff of the county if he or she resides in an unincorporated area, within 10 days of release from custody or within 10 days of his or her arrival in any city, county, or city and county to reside there, whichever occurs first. (b) Subdivision (a) shall apply to any person convicted in a criminal court or who has had a petition sustained in a juvenile court in this state for any of the following offenses: (1) Subdivision (a) of Section 186.22. (2) Any crime where the enhancement specified in subdivision (b) of Section 186.22 is found to be true. (3) Any crime that the court finds is gang related at the time of sentencing or disposition.”)

13 Same.

14 Our Santa Clarita criminal defense attorneys represent both clients accused of both serious felonies and misdemeanors like loitering at a school or other public place at courthouses throughout the Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County court systems.

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