Penal Code 303 is the California statute that makes it a crime to loiter in or around a bar or restaurant for the purpose of asking other patrons or customers to purchase alcohol. This offense is a misdemeanor that can lead to up to 6 months in jail.
The language of the code section states that:
303a. It shall be unlawful, in any place of business where alcoholic beverages are sold to be consumed upon the premises, for any person to loiter in or about said premises for the purpose of begging or soliciting any patron or customer of, or visitor in, such premises to purchase any alcoholic beverage for the one begging or soliciting. Violation of this section shall be a misdemeanor.
- a minor hanging out in a bar and asking customers to buy him a drink.
- a prostitute entering a hotel bar and asking a guy to buy her some wine in the hopes he will hire her.
- a person 18 years of age standing in a 21+ nightclub parking lot and asking customers to buy him shots.
People can challenge accusations under this state law with a legal defense. A few common defenses include defendants showing that they were:
- not loitering,
- not near a business subject to this criminal law, and/or
- stopped or arrested without probable cause.
A violation of Penal Code Section 303 is a misdemeanor offense (as opposed to a felony). The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will discuss the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “loitering for the solicitation of alcohol”?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to PC 303a charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define “loitering for the solicitation of alcohol”?
A prosecutor must prove the following to successfully convict a person under this statute:
- the defendant was loitering,
- the accused was doing so in any place of business where alcoholic beverages are sold to be consumed upon the premises, and
- such person was loitering with the purpose of begging or soliciting any patron or customer to purchase an alcoholic beverage for him/her.1
For purposes of this code section, “loitering” means for a person to remain in a certain place even though he/she has no lawful reason to be there.2
2. Are there legal defenses to PC 303a charges?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest charges under this statute. Three common ones include showing that:
- a defendant was not loitering.
- a defendant was not near an establishment subject to this law.
- law enforcement stopped or arrested the defendant without probable cause.
2.1. No loitering
Recall that people are only guilty under this statute if they were loitering in or near a certain business establishment. Further, “loitering” has a precise legal definition. This means defendants can always challenge a charge by showing that they were not loitering. Perhaps, for example, a defendant had a valid reason to be near a business subject to this law.
2.2. Not near a subject business
PC 303a only applies to businesses that sell alcohol for people to consume on their premises. It does not apply to establishments like liquor stores or convenience stores that sell alcohol for people to take elsewhere. Therefore, a defense is that a defendant was not loitering near a business subject to this law.
2.3. No probable cause
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime. This means people can always assert the defense that a police officer/peace officer stopped or arrested them without a reasonable belief that they committed a crime.
3. What are the penalties?
A violation of this section is a misdemeanor.3
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of one thousand dollars.4
Note that a judge has the discretion to award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation, in lieu of jail time, for this criminal offense.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to loitering for the solicitation of alcohol. These are:
- contributing to the delinquency of a minor – PC 272,
- minor in possession – BPC 25662, and/or
- furnishing or selling alcohol to a minor – BPC 25658.
4.1. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor – PC 272
Per Penal Code 272, contributing to the delinquency of a minor is the crime where people act or fail to act in a way that causes a minor to:
- engage in illegal or delinquent behavior,
- become a habitual truant, or
- become a dependent of the juvenile court system.
An example is an adult providing a minor with a controlled substance.
Note that if an adult provides a minor, who is violating PC 303a, with an alcoholic beverage, then the adult could be charged under PC 272.
4.2. Minor in possession – BPC 25662
Per Business and Professions Code 25662, minor in possession is the crime where minors possess alcohol in a public place (including a park or public building).
“Possess” means to have alcohol on one’s personal property or within his/her immediate control.
A minor cannot be charged with this law if he/she possesses alcohol on private property.
Note that if a minor successfully solicits alcohol, in violation of PC 303a, a prosecutor can charge that person with both:
- minor in possession, and
- loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol.
4.3. Furnishing or selling alcohol to a minor – BPC 25658
Under Business and Professions Code 25658, furnishing or selling alcohol to a minor is the crime where people sell or furnish alcohol to a minor (someone under the state legal drinking age of 21).
As with a violation of PC 303a, a violation of this statute is a misdemeanor offense. Penalties can include jail time and/or community service.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our attorneys also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles.
- California Penal Code 303 Subsection a PC.
- See, for example, Greenblatt v. Munro (1958) 161 Cal.App.2d 596. See also Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Loitering.”
- California Penal Code 303a PC.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.