California's "Peeping Tom" Laws:
*Penal Code 647(i) PC -- Peeking While Loitering (Unlawful Peeking)
*Penal Code 647(j) PC -- Invasion of Privacy

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Penal Code 647 subsections (i) and (j) are California's "Peeping Tom" laws.

Penal Code 647(i) is technically known as "peeking while loitering" or "unlawful peeking." Under this law, it is a crime to peek in the door or window of any inhabited structure while you are loitering on private property without lawful business with the owner or occupant.

Example:  Tom sneaks into his neighbor's backyard. While in the yard, he goes to their bedroom window, peeks inside, and watches he neighbors making love.

Subsection (j) of Penal Code 647 PC is California's criminal invasion of privacy law. It is a complex law, full of nuances and technicalities. In simple terms, however, you violate it when you:

  • Use a device such as a telescope or binoculars to invade a person's privacy;
  • Secretly photograph or record a person's body under or through his or her clothing for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification; or
  • Secretly record or photograph another person in a private room in order to view that person's body or undergarments.
Penalties for Violation of Penal Code 647 (i) or (j)

Peeking while loitering and invasion of privacy both fall under the general umbrella of  California disorderly conduct. As such, they are misdemeanors, punishable by:

  • up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

However, a second or subsequent violation of Penal Code 647(j) PC... or any invasion of the privacy of a minor... is punishable by:

  • up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $2,000.

Depending on the circumstances and your criminal history, a judge might alternatively sentence you to misdemeanor ("summary") probation. If you are sentenced to probation, you will serve little or no jail time.

Legal defenses to "Peeping Tom" charges in California

Like other California "disorderly conduct" crimes, peeping while loitering and invasion of privacy are quite specific and technical in their requirements. Often, the prosecution will be unable to prove one or more required elements of the crime.

Legal defenses to Penal Code 647(i), peeping while loitering, include (but are not limited to):

  • You weren't on private property;
  • You weren't loitering;
  • You had a lawful purpose for being on the property; and
  • The building you were peeking into wasn't inhabited.

Depending on the specific charge, legal defenses to Penal Code 647(j) PC invasion of privacy include (but are not limited to):

  • The alleged victim did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy;
  • The alleged victim consented to being photographed or recorded;
  • You didn't intend to invade anyone's privacy;  and
  • You didn't intend to arouse or gratify yourself sexually.

We are a law firm whose attorneys include former prosecutors and cops. We understand how California disorderly conduct crimes are prosecuted. More importantly, we know how to defend them and make sure you don't spend time behind bars you don't have to.

Below, our California criminal defense attorneys  address the following:

1. California Penal Code 647(i) PC -- "peeking while loitering"

1.1. The legal definition of "peeking while loitering"

1.2. Penalties for peeking while loitering

1.3. Legal defenses to Penal Code 647(i) peeking while loitering

2. California Penal Code 647(j) PC – invasion of privacy

2.1. The legal definition of criminal "invasion of privacy"

2.1.1. Penal Code 647(j) (1) – looking into a room through a hole or opening

2.1.2. Penal Code 647(j) (2) – using a concealed camera to look under or through someone's clothing

2.1.3. Penal Code 647(j)(3) – using a concealed camera to view a person's body in a private room

2.2. Penalties for invasion of privacy

2.3. Legal defenses to Penal Code 647(j) invasion of privacy

3. No obligation to register as California sex offender
4. Federal video voyeurism law – 18 USC 1801
1. California Penal Code 647(i) PC -- "peeking while loitering"
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1.1. The legal definition of "peeking while loitering"

For you to be convicted of peeking while loitering, the prosecutor must prove each of three facts ("elements of the crime"). He or she must show that you:

  1. delayed, lingered, prowled, or wandered upon the private property of another;
  2. without a lawful purpose for being on the property; and
  3. while doing so, peeked in the door or window of any inhabited building or structure located thereon.

A building or structure is inhabited if someone presently uses it as a dwelling. It does not matter whether or not someone is inside at the time of the alleged peeking.

However, the prosecutor does not need to prove that you loitered on the property with the intention of peeking if the opportunity presented itself.

If you were on someone else's property with no lawful purpose... and you peeked in a door or window... it doesn't matter why -- or when -- you decided to do so. The mere fact that you did it constitutes a violation of Penal Code 647(i).

1.2. Penalties for peeking while loitering

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Unlawful peeking (as in all the California peeping tom crimes) is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by:

  • up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

Depending on the circumstances of the offense and your criminal history, the judge may sentence you to misdemeanor probation. Misdemeanor probation is sometimes referred to as "informal" or "summary" probation.

If you are sentenced to probation, you will serve little or no jail time. However, you may still need to pay a fine and you will be required to appear before a judge for periodic "progress reports."  If you do not report as ordered, the judge can revoke your probation and send you to jail.

1.3. Legal defenses to California Penal Code 647(i) peeking while loitering

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Legal defenses to charges of peeking while loitering include (but are not limited to):

  • You weren't peeking in a door or window.

    Example:  You were lingering behind some bushes outside a window on someone else's private property to hide from a neighborhood bully. But the only peeking you did was to look out from the bushes to see if the bully was gone.

  • You weren't on private property.

    Example:  You peeked through the ground floor window of an apartment from the public sidewalk outside the building.

  • You weren't loitering.

    Example:  You were cutting across someone's lawn as a shortcut on your way to work. As you passed by a window, you peeked inside out of curiosity. As long as you continued on your way, you were not loitering. If you were not loitering, you are not guilty of peeking while loitering.

  • You had a lawful purpose for being on the property.

    Example: You were inside an apartment complex as a dinner guest of one of the residents, or to do work on the building at the request of the owner.

  • The building you were peeking into wasn't inhabited.

    Example:  You trespass onto private property to look into the window of an abandoned commercial building to see if it's suitable for "squatting."
2. California Penal Code 647(j) PC – invasion of privacy
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California's criminal invasion of privacy laws are a relatively new addition to the peeking tom laws. These sections make it a crime to look through holes in bathrooms with the intent to invade someone's privacy.

Penal Code (j)(2) makes it a crime to use a camera to look at someone's body under or through clothing ("upskirt" violations). It was signed into law in 1999.

And the use of newer technologies, such as camcorders and mobile phones as instruments of criminal invasion of privacy, was not specifically addressed by the California Legislature until 2011.

2.1. The legal definition of criminal "invasion of privacy"

Because these laws are so new and violation is only a misdemeanor, there is no appellate case law interpreting their specific requirements. Nevertheless, they are quite specific in the behavior they seek to prevent.

California Penal Code 647(j) comprises three distinct, yet related, crimes:

2.1.1. Penal Code 647(j) (1) – looking into a room through a hole or opening

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You violate this subsection of the invasion of privacy law when you:

  1. look through a hole or opening into, or otherwise view
  2. the interior of any area which someone is occupying with a reasonable expectation of privacy, including, without limitation, any:
    • bedroom,
    • bathroom,
    • changing room,
    • fitting room,
    • dressing room, or
    • tanning booth;
  3. by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a:
    • periscope,
    • telescope,
    • binoculars,
    • camera,
    • motion picture camera,
    • camcorder, or
    • mobile phone;
  4. with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside.

An exception to the foregoing is the areas of a private business used to count currency or other negotiable instruments.   These are specifically excluded from the definition of invasion of privacy by the language of subsection (j)(2).

2.1.2. Penal Code 647(j) (2) – using a concealed camera to look under or through someone's clothing

Img-peeping-upskirt

This section of the statute covers what are sometimes referred to as "upskirt" violations. You violate it when you:

  1. Use a concealed camcorder, motion picture camera, or photographic camera of any type,
  2. to secretly videotape, film, photograph, or record by electronic means,
  3. another, identifiable person,
  4. under or through the clothing being worn by that other person,
  5. for the purpose of viewing the body of, or the undergarments worn by, that other person,
  6. without the consent or knowledge of that other person,
  7. with the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify your lust, passions, or sexual desires and invade the privacy of that other person,
  8. under circumstances in which the other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

2.1.3. Penal Code 647(j)(3) – using a concealed camera to view a person's body in a private room

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This subsection of the law prohibits the use of any camera or recording device to secretly make images of nude or partially-dressed people in the interior of areas where they expect privacy.

Specifically, you violate this California peeping tom law when you:

  1. use a concealed camcorder, motion picture camera, or photographic camera of any type,
  2. to secretly videotape, film, photograph, or record by electronic means,
  3. another, identifiable person
  4. who may be in a state of full or partial undress,
  5. for the purpose of viewing the body of, or the undergarments worn by, that other person,
  6. without the consent or knowledge of that other person,
  7. in the interior of a:
    • bedroom,
    • bathroom,
    • changing room,
    • fitting room,
    • dressing room,
    • tanning booth, or
    • any other area in which that other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy,
  8. with the intent to invade the privacy of that other person.

Further, you violate this law even if the alleged victim is not in a state of full or partial nudity, or if you have a legal right to be in the private area.

Example: You film your roommate getting undressed through his cracked bedroom door. Even though you have a legal right to be in your apartment, you still violate this law unless you are filming him with his knowledge and consent.

2.2. Penalties for California criminal invasion of privacy

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California invasion of privacy is a misdemeanor. First-time violators generally face:

  • up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

However, a second or subsequent violation of Penal Code 647(j)... or any violation in which a minor's privacy is invaded... is punishable by:

  1. up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
  2. a fine of up to $2,000.

As with any misdemeanor, the judge has the option to sentence you to misdemeanor ("summary") probation instead of jail. Whether he or she will do depends on the facts of your case and your criminal history.

If you are sentenced to probation, you may serve little or no jail time, although you may still be fined. Additionally, you will need to comply with whatever conditions the court imposes, including appearing before a judge for periodic "progress reports."  If you do not report when you are required to, the judge can revoke your probation and send you to jail.

2.3. Legal defenses to California Penal Code 647(j) invasion of privacy

As you can see from the discussion above, there are numerous elements the prosecutor must prove in an invasion of privacy case. If even one of these is absent, you are not guilty under Penal Code 647(j).

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Some of the legal defenses your California criminal defense attorney might raise include (but are not limited to):

  • The alleged victim had no reasonable expectation of privacy.

    Example:  You took a picture of a man changing out of his swim trunks in the outside shower area of a public beach. The area was open and clearly visible by members of the general public.

  • You didn't intend to invade anyone's privacy

All subsections of this law require the intent to invade someone's privacy. Subsection (2) additionally requires that you intended "to arouse, appeal to, or gratify [your] lust, passions, or sexual desires."

Intent is often difficult to prove and is frequently a weakness in the prosecution's case. This is especially true where you can show that you had some other intent in looking at or photographing another person's body.

Example:  You record or photograph an employee of your shop in the dressing room without her knowledge because you suspect she has been stealing clothes by putting them on underneath her own.
  • You photographed someone accidentally.

    Example:  You work as an insurance adjustor and were taking photographs of holes in a damaged apartment building for purposes of estimating the value of a claim. You didn't even realize that one of the holes went through to a bedroom or that anyone was inside.

  • You used a camera to take a photo underneath someone's clothing, but it was not with any sexual intent.

    Example: You put your mobile phone beneath a man's kilt and take a picture, because you and your friend have a bet about whether men wear underwear beneath their kilts.

  • The alleged victim consented to being photographed.

    Example: You and your girlfriend make a sex tape. After you have broken up, you show the recording to someone else, who tells your ex-girlfriend. Your ex goes to the police and accuses you of invading her privacy.

    If you have evidence that the sex tape was consensual, the prosecutor will most likely drop the charges. Even without such evidence, the burden is on the prosecution to prove that the tape was made without your ex-girlfriend's consent.

  • The alleged victim knew that he or she was being watched

    Example:  The girl across the street regularly gets dressed with her bedroom curtains open. She even waves to you sometimes and poses for you when you are watching her through binoculars. Although she has never actually told you that she consents to your watching her get dressed, her consent can be inferred from her actions.
3. No need to register as a California "sex offender"

The peeping tom laws discussed in this article do not require you to register as a California sex offender under Megan's Law.   Thus, if you are convicted of... or plead guilty to... a violation of Penal Code Code 647(i) or (j), your name will not be posted on the California Megan's Law website.

4. Federal video voyeurism law – 18 USC 1801

18 USC 1801 was signed into law in December 2004.    It prohibits "video voyeurism" on federally owned territory. Under this law, it is a federal crime to knowingly and intentionally:

  1. capture an image of a private area of an individual,
  2. without that person's consent,
  3. under circumstances in which that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Examples of federal territories are post offices, national parks, federal courtrooms and Veterans' Administration buildings.Violation of 18 USC 1801 is punishable by:

  1. a fine of up to $100,000, and/or
  2. imprisonment of up to one year.
Call us for help...
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If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 647(i) PC peeping tom and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys represent clients accused of violating Nevada's laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.

You may also find helpful information in our related articles on Penal Code 632 PC -- Eavesdropping; Penal Code 602 PC -- Criminal Trespassing; Penal Code 647(a) PC -- Lewd or Dissolute Conduct in Public.

Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 647 provides, in relevant part: "... every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor: ... (i) Who, while loitering, prowling, or wandering upon the private property of another, at any time, peeks in the door or window of any inhabited building or structure, without visible or lawful business with the owner or occupant..."
  2. California Penal Code  647. -- Except as provided in subdivision (l), every person whocommits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, amisdemeanor:

    (j) (1) Any person who looks through a hole or opening, into, orotherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but notlimited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motionpicture camera, camcorder, or mobile phone, the interior of abedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, ortanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which theoccupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent toinvade the privacy of a person or persons inside. This subdivisionshall not apply to those areas of a private business used to countcurrency or other negotiable instruments.
    (2) Any person who uses a concealed camcorder, motion picturecamera, or photographic camera of any type, to secretly videotape,film, photograph, or record by electronic means, another,identifiable person under or through the clothing being worn by thatother person, for the purpose of viewing the body of, or theundergarments worn by, that other person, without the consent orknowledge of that other person, with the intent to arouse, appeal to,or gratify the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person andinvade the privacy of that other person, under circumstances in whichthe other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
    (3) (A) Any person who uses a concealed camcorder, motion picturecamera, or photographic camera of any type, to secretly videotape,film, photograph, or record by electronic means, another,identifiable person who may be in a state of full or partial undress,for the purpose of viewing the body of, or the undergarments wornby, that other person, without the consent or knowledge of that otherperson, in the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room,fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of anyother area in which that other person has a reasonable expectationof privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of that otherperson.
  3. Other forms of disorderly conduct prohibited by Penal Code 647 include (without limitation):

  4. California Penal Code 19 -- Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.
  5. California Penal Code  647(l).
  6. (1) A second or subsequent violation of subdivision (j) ispunishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year,or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by boththat fine and imprisonment.
    (2) If the victim of a violation of subdivision (j) was a minor atthe time of the offense, the violation is punishable by imprisonmentin a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceedingtwo thousand dollars ($2,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.
  7. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys have local law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.
  8. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2013) (CALCRIM) 2916 --Loitering: Peeking (Pen. Code, § 647(i))
    The defendant is charged [in Count ] with peeking in the door or window of an inhabited (building/ [or] structure) [in violation of Penal Code section 647(i)].To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:1 The defendant delayed, lingered, prowled, or wandered on the private property of someone else;
    2 When the defendant was on that property, (he/she) did not have a lawful purpose for being there;AND
    3 When the defendant was on the property, (he/she) peeked in the door or window of an inhabited building or structure.

    Note: The older California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALJIC) 16.447 – Unlawful Peeking – explicitly provide that "[t]he word "loitering" means to delay or linger. However, the newer CALCRIM instructions, which are specifically endorsed by Rule 2.1050 of the California Rules of Court, tend to avoid specifically defining legal terms. Rather they incorporate the definition  into the language of the instructions in which the termsappear. See CALCRIM (2013),  Guide for Using Judicial Council of California Criminal JuryInstructions (CALCRIM).

  9. CALCRIM 2916 -- [A (building/ [or] structure) is inhabited if someone uses it as a dwelling, whether or not someone is inside at the time of the alleged peeking.]

    [A (building/ [or] structure) is not inhabited if the former residents have moved out and do not intend to return, even if some personal property remains inside.]
  10. In re Joshua M. (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 743, 110 Cal.Rptr.2d 662 ("[T]he People were not required to prove that the [defendant] peeked through the victim's blinds with the intent to commit an offense if the opportunity is discovered... being on the property and peeking into a window constitutes the crime.").
  11. California Penal Code 19 -- Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both.
  12. See California Penal Code Section 1203(a).
  13. See, e.g., Nancy Hill-Holtzman,  New Law Takes Aim at Video Voyeurism, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 1999.
  14. California Penal Code 647(j)(1), endnote 2, above.
  15. See same.
  16. See California Penal Code 647(j)(2), endnote 2, above.
  17. See California Penal Code 647(j)(3)(A), endnote 2, above.
  18. California Penal Code 647(j)(3)(B) -- Neither of the following is a defense to the crime specified in this paragraph:

    (i) The defendant was a cohabitant, landlord, tenant, cotenant,employer, employee, or business partner or associate of the victim,or an agent of any of these.

    (ii) The victim was not in a state of full or partial undress.
  19. California Penal Code 19, endnote 4, above.
  20. California Penal Code  647(l), endnote 5, above.
  21. See California Penal Code Section 1203(a).
  22. See the California Department of Justice Megan's Law web page for a list of California registrable sex offenses.
  23. See Govtrack.us, S. 1301 (108th): Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004.
  24. 18 USC 1801 –- Video voyeurism.

    (a) Whoever, in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, has the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

    (b) In this section—

    (1) the term "capture", with respect to an image, means to videotape, photograph, film, record by any means, or broadcast;

    (2) the term "broadcast" means to electronically transmit a visual image with the intent that it be viewed by a person or persons;

    (3) the term "a private area of the individual" means the naked or undergarment clad genitals, pubic area, buttocks, or female breast of that individual;

    (4) the term "female breast" means any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola; and

    (5) the term "under circumstances in which that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy" means—

    (A) circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that he or she could disrobe in privacy, without being concerned that an image of a private area of the individual was being captured; or

    (B) circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that a private area of the individual would not be visible to the public, regardless of whether that person is in a public or private place

    .(c) This section does not prohibit any lawful law enforcement, correctional, or intelligence activity.
  25. Same. See also 18 USC 3571(5).
  26. Please feel free to contact our Nevada criminal defense attorneys for any questions relating to the illegal sale of firearms in Nevada. Their Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.

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