California Penal Code 647(b) PC is the statute that makes it illegal to engage in (or solicit) prostitution. The term “prostitution” means to perform sexual intercourse or a lewd act in exchange for some form of compensation.
A violation of 647(b) PC is a misdemeanor with a penalty of
- up to 6 months in county jail and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.
- a man offering drugs to a woman in exchange for a “blow job.”
- a woman allowing a man to fondle her breasts in exchange for money.
- a police officer accepting a woman’s offer to have sex in exchange for not writing her a traffic ticket.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help clients contest solicitation and prostitution charges. A few common ones include showing that:
- there is a lack of evidence to support a conviction,
- the defendant was entrapped, and/or
- the defendant was falsely accused.
The crime is punishable by:
- up to six months in jail time, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “prostitution” and “solicitation”?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to PC 647b charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
- 5. Are there efforts in California to legalize prostitution?
- 6. How does the passage of Senate Bill 233 protect sex workers?
1. How does California law define “prostitution” and “solicitation”?
California Penal Code 647b prohibits three types of acts:
- engaging in an act of prostitution,
- soliciting an act of prostitution, and
- agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution.1
For purposes of all of these acts, “prostitution” is where a person has sexual intercourse or does a lewd act with someone else in exchange for
- money or
- other compensation.
A “lewd act” or “lewd conduct” means touching the genitals, buttocks, or female breast of either the prostitute or customer with some part of the other person’s body for the purpose of
- sexual arousal or
- sexual gratification.2
1.1. Engaging in an act of prostitution
A person engages in prostitution if he/she:
- willfully engages in sexual intercourse or a lewd act with someone else, and
- does so in exchange for money or other compensation.3
In the State of California, willfully means the defendant engaged in the act willingly or on purpose. It does not require a specific intent to break the law.4
1.2. Soliciting an act of prostitution
Under California law, a person solicits prostitution when he/she:
- requests that another person engage in an act of prostitution, and
- does so with the intent to engage in an act of prostitution with the other person.5
For a defendant to be guilty of solicitation, he/she must have clearly intended to engage in an act of prostitution.
The following are not acts showing a clear intent to commit prostitution:
- being present in a known area of prostitution,
- waving to a passing vehicle,
- nodding to a stranger, or
- standing on a street corner in a miniskirt.6
Example: Katrina is a police officer participating in a series of undercover prostitution sting operations. She puts on provocative clothing and stands on a street corner where prostitutes are known to gather.
Frank drives by Katrina several times and then pulls over. He offers Katrina $200 to have sex with him and shows her the cash. Frank’s actions clearly indicate his intent to initiate a prostitution transaction.
But if Frank had just propositioned Katrina on a dare from his friends, then he is not guilty of solicitation. This is because he acted out of a dare and did not intend to act in furtherance of trading sex for money.
1.3. Agreeing to engage in prostitution
Under PC 647b, a prosecutor has to prove the following to successfully secure a conviction for “agreeing” to engage in prostitution:
- the defendant agreed to engage in an act of prostitution with someone else,
- the defendant intended to engage in an act of prostitution with that person, and
- the defendant did something to further the commission of an act of prostitution.7
As to the third element, this extra “something” is more than just accepting a solicitation.8
- handing over the agreed-upon payment,
- withdrawing money from an ATM in order to pay the other person,
- driving to an agreed-upon location where the sexual activity will take place,9 or
- instructing a customer who has accepted a solicitation to undress.10
2. Are there legal defenses to PC 647b charges?
In solicitation and prosecution cases, defendants can challenge allegations with a legal defense. Three common defenses include accused people showing that:
- there is insufficient evidence to support a California prostitution or solicitation charge.
- law enforcement entrapped the accused.
- the defendant was falsely accused.
2.1. Insufficient evidence
Insufficient evidence means that a prosecutor has only part of the evidence needed for a solicitation or prostitution conviction. Only part of the evidence means that a jury will have reasonable doubt that an accused committed a crime. For example, in a solicitation case, maybe a prosecutor:
- can show that an accused requested another person to engage in prostitution, but
- cannot show that the accused intended to engage in an act of prostitution.
Entrapment is often used as a defense when a defendant is charged with the crime of prostitution or solicitation after an undercover sting. Entrapment means that the police used some type of overbearing conduct to trick a person into committing a crime. The defense works so long as the accused shows that he/she only committed a PC 647b offense because of the undercover police officer’s entrapment.
2.3. Falsely accused
Unfortunately, people get falsely accused under this statute all of the time. A person may falsely accuse another of prostitution/solicitation out of jealousy or payback. No matter the specific reason though, a defendant can always use a defense that he/she was unjustly blamed.
3. What are the penalties?
Under California’s solicitation and prostitution laws, a conviction under PC 647b is a misdemeanor offense.
A first-time offense under the statute is punishable by:
- custody in county jail (as opposed to state prison) for up to six months, and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.11
Penalties for a second or subsequent offense include:
- a mandatory minimum 45 days in county jail for a second offense, and
- a mandatory minimum of 90 days in county jail for a third offense.12
In some cases, a judge may also suspend the defendant’s driver’s license for up to 30 days.13
Note that a conviction of some California sex crimes or sex acts will result in the defendant having to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290. But neither prostitution nor solicitation requires mandatory sex offender registration.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are five crimes related to solicitation and prostitution. These are:
- human trafficking – PC 236.1,
- pimping – PC 266h,
- pandering – PC 266i,
- loitering with the intent to commit prostitution – PC 653.22 (now repealed), and
- supervising or aiding a prostitute – PC 653.23.
4.1. Human trafficking – PC 236.1
Per Penal Code 236.1, human trafficking is the crime where people:
- deprive someone of their personal liberty, and
- do so with the intent to violate certain California laws regarding commercial sexual activity and the sexual exploitation of children.
Unlike violations of PC 647b, violations of this law are always charged as a felony. Depending on the facts of the case, the crime can be punished by a life sentence in state prison.
4.2. Pimping – PC 266h
Per Penal Code 266h, pimping is the crime where people receive all or part of the revenue from another person’s work as a prostitute.
As with prostitution and solicitation charges, alleged pimps can contest charges under this statute with an entrapment defense.
4.3. Pandering – PC 266i
Under Penal Code 266i, pandering is the crime where people attempt to influence someone to become or remain a prostitute.
California law treats this crime more seriously than prostitution or solicitation. Pandering is a felony offense punishable by up to six years in state prison.
4.4. Loitering with the intent to commit prostitution – PC 653.22 (now repealed)
Prior to July 2022, Penal Code 653.22 made it a California crime to loiter in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution. Suspected sex workers could be cited or arrested simply for being in a public place even if:
- no offer to exchange sex for money took place; or
- no sex acts actually occurred.
The penalties for loitering were the same as the penalties for a PC 647b violation:
- up to 6 months in county jail and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.
Enforcing PC 653.22 unfairly targeted people of color and transgender people. As of July of 2022, it is no longer be a crime to “loiter with intent to commit prostitution.” However, prostitution itself remains illegal.
Since loitering with intent to commit prostitution is no longer illegal, people with past PC 653.22 convictions on their record can petition the court to dismiss the case and seal it from their criminal record.14
4.5. Supervising or aiding a prostitute – PC 653.23
Under Penal Code 653.23, supervising or aiding a prostitute is the crime where people direct, supervise, recruit, or help someone else in committing:
- solicitation, or
- loitering to commit prostitution.
For purposes of this statute, the terms “prostitution” and “solicitation” carry the same definitions as used under PC 647b.
5. Are there efforts in California to legalize prostitution?
There are current efforts in California to legalize prostitution.
For example, the California Senate recently passed Senate Bill 357, which if passed into law would no longer punish people for violating PC 653.22 (loitering with the intent to commit prostitution).
The legislature is thinking about legalizing prostitution in order to better combat the offense of human trafficking. The reasoning here is that the legalization of prostitution would mean that pimps could no longer use fear of arrest to help keep trafficking victims attached to committing sexual acts.15
Other states are also contemplating legalizing prostitution, including the states of Maine and Oregon.
6. How does the passage of Senate Bill 233 protect sex workers?
As of 2020, police can no longer use the fact that a person is carrying condoms to form probable cause that the person is a prostitute and then arrest him/her for
- loitering, or
- public nuisance.
Now that condoms can no longer be used as evidence of probable cause, this may cut down on the number of prostitution arrests. And sex workers do not have to fear that carrying condoms will incriminate them.
In addition, SB 233 immunizes people – including sex workers – from certain low-level criminal charges when they report serious crimes to the police. In the past, sex workers who were victims of – or who witnessed – serious crimes may have avoided calling the police out of fear they would be prosecuted themselves for either:
- a misdemeanor drug offense,
- engaging in, or soliciting, prostitution (Penal Code 647(b) PC),
- loitering with intent to commit prostitution (Penal Code 653.22 PC),
- creating or maintaining a public nuisance (Penal Code 372 PC), and
- engaging in lewd conduct (Penal Code 647(a) PC).
Now, they are protected from being charged with any of the above crimes when they report either:
- any serious felony,
- certain serious types of assault, such as:
- human trafficking (Penal Code 236.1 PC),
- sexual battery (Penal Code 243.4 PC),
- stalking (Penal Code 646.9 PC),
- domestic violence causing a corporal injury (Penal Code 275.5 PC), or
- extortion (Penal Code 518 PC).
This new law gives sex workers a greater incentive to report pimps and johns who may be abusing them or others.16
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with one of our solicitation and prostitution defense attorneys, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California State, including those in Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Bernardino, Glendale, Los Angeles County, Newport Beach, Orange County, Pasadena, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Torrance Santa Monica, and San Francisco.
- California PC 647b PC. See also CALCRIM No. 1154 – Prostitution: Soliciting Another. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition). See also: People v. Saephanh (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 451; Leffel v. Municipal Court (1976) 54 Cal.App.3d 569.
- CALCRIM No. 1154. See also: Pryor v. Municipal Court (1979) 25 Cal.3d 238; People v. Hill (1980) 103Cal.App.3d 525; Wooten v. Superior Court (2001) 93 Cal.App.4th 422; People v. Davis (1988) 201 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1; People v. Norris (1978) 88 Cal.App.3d Supp. 32; People v. Love (1980) 111 Cal.App.3d Supp.1; People v. Dell (1991) 232 Cal.App.3d 248. See also PC 315.
- CALCRIM No. 1153.
- California Penal Code 7(1) PC.
- CALCRIM No. 1154. See also People v. Superior Court (1977) 19 Cal.3d 338, and People v. Mecano (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 1061.
- In re White (1979) 97 Cal.App.3d 141.
- CALCRIM 1155 – Prostitution: Agreeing to Engage in Act.
- See same.
- In re Cheri T. (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 1400.
- Kim v. Superior Court (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 937.
- California Penal Code 19 PC.
- California Penal Code 647 k PC.
- See same.
- SB 357 (2022). Brooke Migdon, California governor rolls back law criminalizing ‘loitering for the intent to engage in sex work’, The Hill (July 5, 2022).
- See “California, Other States Eye Reduced Penalties for Prostitution to Fight Sex Trafficking,” JW August, Times of San Diego, July 18, 2021.
- California Senate Bill 233 (2019).