California Prostitution & Solicitation Laws
[Penal Code 647(b) PC]


Penal Code 647b is California's law on prostitution and solicitation. This section makes it a misdemeanor for anyone 18 or older to:

  • Pay or accept money or other consideration in exchange for a sexual act (“prostitution”),1
  • Offer to engage in an act of prostitution ("solicitation"),2 or
  • Agree to engage in an act of prostitution.3

PC 647(b) applies to prostitutes and customers

Under California law, when a prostitute and a customer engage in sexual intercourse or lewd acts, both are engaged in an “act of prostitution.”4

Thus Penal Code 647 applies to both prostitutes and their customers (also known as "johns").

Some prostitutes also have middlemen, known generally as “pimps.”

Pimps are more likely to be arrested for violating:

Examples of Penal Code 647(b) violations

  • A man offers drugs to a woman in exchange for a "blow job" (even if she is not a prostitute and she says “no”).
  • A woman allows a man to fondle her breasts in exchange for money.
  • A police officer accepts a woman's offer to have sex in exchange for not writing her a traffic ticket.

Penalties for prostitution or solicitation in California

Prostitution and solicitation are both misdemeanors in California.7

First offense

For a first prostitution or solicitation offense, potential penalties can include:

  • Up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).8

Subsequent convictions

Penal Code 647(b) is a "priorable" offense. This means punishment for prostitution/solicitation increases with each subsequent conviction as follows:.  

  • Second offense: a mandatory minimum of forty-five (45) days in a county jail.9
  • Third or subsequent offense: a mandatory minimum of ninety (90) days in a county jail.10

Additional penalty if committed in a car

Both prostitutes and Johns face a potential additional penalty if:

  • The defendant was in a vehicle at the time of the crime, AND
  • The defendant was within 1,000 feet of a residence.

These additional penalties can include:

  • A suspended driver's license for up to 30days,11 or
  • A restricted driver's license for up 6 months.12
Prostitute talking to potential customer through open driver's side window of car

No mandatory sex offender registration for prostitution offenses

A conviction for prostitution or solicitation does not trigger automatic registration as a California sex offender.

However, a judge has the discretion to order a defendant to register whenever a crime is “the result of sexual compulsion or for purposes of sexual gratification.13

As a practical matter, PC 647(b) convictions seldom result in sex offender registration.

Legal defenses to Penal Code 647

Every prostitution and solicitation case is unique. But some of the most common legal defenses we use in PC 647 cases include:

To help you better understand California's laws on prostitution and solicitation, our California criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

prostitute in hot pans, crop top and stilettos on street

1. The legal definition of “prostitution” and “solicitation” in California

Penal Code 647(b) PC defines “prostitution” as the exchange of money or other consideration (such as goods or services) for sex or lewd conduct.14 But PC 647(b) applies even if the proposed conduct never actually took place.

Specifically, PC 647(b) prohibits three types of behaviors:

  1. Engaging in an act of prostitution,
  2. Soliciting an act of prostitution, or
  3. Agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution.15

Which specific behavior is charged determines what facts ("elements of the crime") the prosecution must prove.

Let's take a closer look at each of these specific situations.

1.1. Engaging in an act of prostitution

A defendant is guilty of engaging in prostitution if he or she:

  • Willfully engaged in sexual intercourse or a lewd act with someone,
  • In exchange for money or other compensation.16

“Willfully” means the defendant engaged in the act willingly or on purpose.17. It does not require an intent to break the law.18

A "lewd" act is defined as:

  • Any act that involves touching the genitals, buttocks, or female breast of another person,
  • With the specific intent to arouse or gratify someone sexually.19

1.2. Soliciting prostitution

Under California law, a defendant is guilty of “soliciting prostitution” when:

  • The defendant requested that another person engage in an act of prostitution; and
  • The defendant intended to engage in an act of prostitution with the other person.20

Depending on who initiated the interaction, prosecutors might charge this offense against either the prostitute or the customer.21

Proof of intent required

For a defendant to be guilty of solicitation, he or she must have intended to engage in an act of prostitution.

Such intent is typically shown by an offer to pay money or other consideration (often drugs) in exchange for sex.22

However, it is not necessary that the other person have shared that intent.23 For instance, a defendant could still be charged with solicitation even if:

  • The person solicited was not a prostitute;
  • The "prostitute" was really an undercover decoy officer; or
  • The person solicited was a prostitute who didn't agree to the proposed transaction.

Intent to solicit prostitution must be clear

Some acts may look bad but are potentially innocent. These acts are not – at least, by themselves – proof of the intent to solicit prostitution.

Examples of such acts include (but are not limited to):

  • 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.24
Example: Katrina is a police officer participating in an undercover prostitution sting operation. 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… let's say that Frank had just propositioned Katrina on a dare from his friends. Since he didn't intend to go through with an act of prostitution, he would not be guilty of solicitation.
man in business suit handing cash to someone

1.3. Agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution

Someone can violate PC 647(b) merely by agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution – but only if he or she means to follow through on it.

To prove this the prosecutor must show that:

  1. The defendant agreed to engage in an act of prostitution with someone else;
  2. The defendant intended to engage in an act of prostitution with that person; and
  3. In addition to agreeing, the defendant did something to further the commission of an act of prostitution.25

This variation of PC 647(b) is the mirror image of soliciting prostitution.

Someone who makes the offer to engage in a sex act can be charged with solicitation. But the person who accepts the offer will be charged with agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution.

More than a verbal offer is required

To be guilty of “agreeing to engage in an act of prostitution,” a defendant must have done something to further the commission of an act of prostitution.26

This extra “something” is more than just accepting a solicitation.27<? For instance:

  • 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,28 or
  • Instructing a customer who has accepted a solicitation to undress.29

1.4. Children under 18 cannot be guilty of prostitution

Children under age 18 cannot be found guilty of prostitution in California.30

This resulted from passage of California Senate Bill SB 1322, which California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on September 26, 2016.31

SB 1322 amended California PC 647(b) so that a child under 18 who commits an act of prostitution is considered a “commercially sexually exploited child.” 32

The child will not go to juvenile hall or jail. Instead, the child may be adjudged a dependent child of the court and taken into temporary custody.33

If taken into temporary custody, the court will order the child placed for up to 15 days with a family member or an emergency shelter.34

Close-up of man's hands taking money out of wallet with young Asian girl in bed in background
Children under 18 cannot be guilty of prostitution in California

2. Penalties for prostitution or solicitation in California

Violation of Penal Code 647(b) PC is always a misdemeanor.35 Punishment depends on:

  • Whether it is a first or subsequent offense, and
  • Where the violation took place.

2.1. Punishment for a first offense

Punishment for a first offense can include:

  • Up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).36

2.2. Subsequent prostitution/solicitation offenses

California Penal Code 647(b) is a "priorable" offense. This means that the punishment increases with each subsequent conviction.  

Penalties for a second or subsequent violation of California's prostitution/solicitation law include:

  • Second offense: a mandatory minimum of forty-five (45) days in a county jail.37
  • Third or subsequent offense: a mandatory minimum of ninety (90) days in a county jail.38

2.3. Prostitution or solicitation in a car in a residential area

Penalties for prostitution or solicitation in California increase if the defendant committed the crime:

  • While using a car, AND
  • Within 1,000 feet of a residence39

In addition to ordering a jail sentence and/or a fine, the court may:

  • Suspend the defendant's driver's license for up to thirty (30) days,40 or
  • Issue the defendant a restricted license for up to six (6) months.41

A restricted license allows the defendant to drive to and from work or school.  It also permits driving for work defendant If driving is a necessary part of the defendant's employment.42

2.4. Additional punishment by local governments

Local jurisdictions may impose additional penalties for prostitution and/or solicitation.

For instance, if a defendant is convicted in Los Angeles for prostitution or while in a car, the government may seize and forfeit the defendant's vehicle.43 This is a form of California asset forfeiture and is in addition to the other penalties allowed by law.

Defenses to local prostitution and solicitation laws are generally the same as California legal defenses to Penal Code 647(b).

3. Does a PC 647(b) conviction require California sex offender registration?

Neither prostitution nor solicitation requires mandatory sex offender registration under California Penal Code 290 PC.

However, a judge has the discretion to require registration if a criminal offense was “the result of sexual compulsion or for sexual gratification.”44

This description potentially applies to almost any solicitation conviction. As a practical matter, however, sex offender registration is rarely, if ever, imposed in connection with California prostitution or solicitation cases.

4. Legal defenses to prostitution or solicitation in California

There is no “best legal defense” to prostitution or solicitation charges. But there are several defenses that are used frequently in Penal Code 647(b) cases. These include:

  • Entrapment,
  • Lack of trustworthy evidence,
  • Insufficient evidence, and/or
  • Mistake of fact / lack of intent.

In addition, there are a number of “charge reductions” a defendant might plead guilty to that don't carry the stigma of a conviction for prostitution. An experienced California sex crimes lawyer can often negotiate these as part of a plea bargain.

Let's take a closer look at these defenses and charge reductions PC 647(b) charges.

4.1. Entrapment

Entrapment occurs when a police officer engages in conduct that would cause a normally law-abiding person to commit a crime.45 It requires something more, however, than simply giving someone an opportunity to commit a crime.46

Depending on the circumstances, behaviors that might constitute entrapment include:

  • Badgering,
  • Flattery or coaxing,
  • Repeated and insistent requests,
  • An appeal to friendship or sympathy,
  • A guarantee that an act is not illegal or that it will go undetected,
  • An offer of an extraordinary benefit, or
  • Other similar conduct.47

The use of “decoy” officers

The entrapment defense often arises when the defendant is busted in an undercover sting operation.

In a typical sting, a "decoy” officer poses as a prostitute or a potential customer. The decoy then tries to entice the suspect into making an offer for an act of prostitution.

Unfortunately, many of these decoy cops cross the line into police entrapment. They lure otherwise-law-abiding citizens with unfair flattery, promises or enticements.

Example: While on a business trip, Ted meets "Stacy" at the hotel bar. Stacy is really an undercover officer working a prostitution sting. She comes on to him and he invites her to his hotel room. Once there, Stacy starts telling Ted all the things she would like to do him. Once he is worked up, she tells him she needs $500 for her mother's surgery. She says she would be very, very appreciative if Ted would help her out.
Ted would never have hired a prostitute on his own initiative. But based on Stacy's actions, he agrees to give her $500. Stacy then discloses that she's an undercover cop and arrests him.

Entrapment is an affirmative defense

Entrapment is an affirmative defense in California. That means that once the defendant claims he or she was entrapped, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant to prove it.

Fortunately, entrapment does not need to be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The defendant must simply establish the entrapment by a “preponderance of the evidence.”48

“Preponderance of the evidence” means it is “more likely than not” that the police engaged in entrapment. If the defendant can establish this, he or she must be found “not guilty.”

4.2. Lack of trustworthy evidence

Lack of trustworthy evidence is a common defense to charges under Penal Code 647(b). This is especially true when the alleged agreement to engage in prostitution was not recorded.

This raises a red flag for jurors.  If the officer was wired, why didn't he/she record the conversation? What is the officer hiding?

Without hearing the conversation itself, many jurors are hesitant to conclude guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

4.3. Insufficient evidence

"Insufficient evidence" is a slightly different defense than untrustworthy evidence. In this case, the evidence that exists might be trustworthy, but it might be only part of what the prosecution needs to prove.

Take, for instance, our example of Ted and Stacy from section 3.1, above.

Ted might have agreed to have sex with Stacy. He might even have given her $500. But the prosecution needs to prove intent. Perhaps Ted believed the story “Stacy” told about her mother's surgery. In other words, he gave her the money, but it wasn't intended as an exchange for sex.

4.4. Mistake of fact / lack of intent

For someone to be guilty of prostitution or solicitation, he or she must have specifically intended to engage in a sex act. In some cases, a defendant may have made what's known as a “mistake of fact" under California law.

Example: Bruce falls asleep in a bad position while flying out-of-town for a business trip. Afterwards, his neck really hurts.
When he arrives at his hotel, he asks for a recommendation to a massage parlor. He has no idea that the clerk thinks he asking for a referral to a known place of prostitution.

4.5. Charge reductions / plea bargains

The most common charge reductions that a defendant might get as part of a plea bargain are:

Neither disturbing the peace nor criminal trespass really has anything to do with prostitution or solicitation.

But they flag for law enforcement agencies that someone may have originally faced a prostitution charge. At the same time, they are less serious offenses that let a defendant avoid the stigma of a prostitution or solicitation conviction.49

As a result, these charges represent a compromise that often suits both the prosecution and the defendant.

Alternatively, the charge might get reduced to Penal Code 647(a), lewd conduct in public (discussed in section 5.3, below).

Lewd conduct in public is a less serious offense than prostitution or solicitation. And unlike 647(b), it isn't a priorable offense.50

5. Related offenses

5.1. “Pimping” and “pandering”-- California Penal Code 266h and 266i

"Pimping" is the crime of knowingly living in whole or in part off of a prostitute's pay.51 It can -- but does not have to -- include taking part of a prostitute's earnings in exchange for finding customers for him or her.

"Pandering" can refer to either:

  • Recruiting or encouraging someone to become or remain a prostitute, or
  • Making another person available for the purpose of prostitution.52

Pimping and pandering are felonies in California. Conviction on either of these crimes carries a possible penalty of three (3), four (4), or six (6) years in the California state prison.

5.2. Supervising or aiding a prostitute -- Penal Code 653.23 PC

Closely related to the crimes of pimping and pandering is Penal Code 653.23, "supervising or aiding a prostitute.”

Basically, anyone who helps someone else commit prostitution or solicitation in any way can be accused of this crime.

For example, if you drive a friend to a location where he plans to hire a prostitute, you might be charged with aiding in prostitution.

Supervising or aiding a prostitute is a misdemeanor and carries the same penalties as prostitution / solicitation:

  • Up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).

5.3. Lewd conduct in public -- Penal Code 647(a) PC

Penal Code 647(a) is California's "lewd conduct in public" law. PC 647(a) makes it a misdemeanor to engage in a lewd act in public or to solicit someone else to do so.

Streetwalkers and their potential customers are often charged with both Penal Code 647(a) and 647(b).

As Beverly Hills sex crimes defense attorney John Murray53 explains:

"Cops often set up surveillance post to 'watch' known prostitutes who work at public intersections.  As soon as they see a 'john' make contact, they follow the suspects. Once the suspects engage in an act of prostitution (often in a locked car), the police arrest both parties under Penal Code 647(a) and 647(b)."

Since the police are only watching from a distance, lewd conduct charges can be difficult to prove.

But because it is a less serious offense than PC 647(b), it can sometimes be a desirable plea bargain.

5.4. Loitering to commit prostitution -- Penal Code 653.22 PC

Penal Code 653.22 is California's law against loitering for prostitution. A defendant violates PC 653.22 when he or she loiters in a public place with the specific intent to engage in prostitution.54

The California legislature added this section to help police combat prostitution. It is often charged when there is no evidence of a specific act of prostitution.

Example: The police observe a woman standing on a street corner well-known for prostitution. She is scantily clad and waving to cars as they pass. This alone is probably sufficient to trigger an arrest for loitering to commit prostitution.

Penal Code 653.22 is a misdemeanor. Potential penalties can include:

  • Up to six months of jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).55

5.5. Indecent exposure -- Penal Code 314 PC

Penal Code 314 PC, California's indecent exposure law, prohibits "exposing" one's genitals in public.56

However, in order to be guilty under PC 314, the defendant must have intended to direct public attention to his or her genitals.57

Many prostitution acts take place in private cars, hotel rooms, or remote, secluded areas.  So, while it may seem that an act of prostitution could additionally trigger this charge, this typically wouldn't be the case.

Indecent exposure is generally a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

5.6. Rape -- California Penal Code 261 PC

Under California Penal Code 261 "rape" is defined as nonconsensual sexual intercourse.58

Per PC 261, a prostitute has the right to ask a customer to stop at any time. If the customer refuses, he could be charged with both prostitution and rape.

Rape is a serious felony in California. Punishment for rape can include:

  • Three (3), six (6) or eight (8) years in California state prison,59 or
  • If the alleged victim was a minor, seven (7) to thirteen (13) years in prison.60

Charged with prostitution or solicitation? Call us for help…

california prostitution legal defense receptionist
Call us for help

If you have been charged with prostitution or solicitation under Penal Code 647(b), we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

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

Call us to discuss your case confidentially with an experienced California criminal lawyer.

Our Las Vegas and Reno sex crimes lawyers can also help if you have been charged under Nevada's prostitution and solicitation laws, NRS 201.354.

¿Habla español? Visite nuestro sitio Web en español sobre el delito de la prostitución en California.


Legal references:

  1. California Penal Code 647(b). See also CALCRIM 1153. Prostitution: Engaging in Act: “To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that the defendant willfully engaged in sexual intercourse or a lewd act with someone else in exchange for money [or other compensation].  [A lewd act 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 gratification of either person]."Penal Code 647(b), endnote 1.
  2. Penal Code 647(b)..See also CALCRIM 1154. Prostitution: Soliciting Another and CALCRIM 1155. Prostitution: Agreeing to Engage in Act.
  3. Penal Code 647(b).
  4. Same. See also CALCRIM 1154, endnote 2: “Under the law, when a prostitute and a customer engage in sexual intercourse or lewd acts, both of them are engaged in an act of prostitution.”
  5. Penal Code 266h and Penal Code 266i, respectively. See also CALCRIM 1150. Pimping and CALCRIM 1151. Pandering.
  6. Penal Code 653.23(a): "It is unlawful for any person to … (1) Direct, supervise, recruit, or otherwise aid another person in the commission of a violation of subdivision (b) of Section 647 or ...(2) Collect or receive all or part of the proceeds earned from an act or acts of prostitution committed by another person in violation of subdivision (b) of Section 647…”
  7. Penal Code 647(b).
  8. Same.
  9. Penal Code 647(k).
  10. Same.
  11. Penal Code 647(b).
  12. California Vehicle Code Section 13201.5(c).
  13. Penal Code 290.005(b): “Any person ordered by any other court, including any state, federal, or military court, to register as a sex offender for any offense, if the court found at the time of conviction or sentencing that the person committed the offense as a result of sexual compulsion or for purposes of sexual gratification.”
  14. California Penal Code 647(b), endnote 1. See also CALCRIM 1154, endnote 2.
  15. California 647(b).
  16. CALCRIM 1153, endnote 1.
  17. Same.
  18. Penal Code 7(1): “The word ‘willfully,' when applied to the intent with which an act is done or omitted, implies simply a purpose or willingness to commit the act, or make the omission referred to. It does not require any intent to violate law, or to injure another, or to acquire any advantage.”
  19. CALCRIM 1153, endnote 1.
  20. CALCRIM 1154, endnote 2.
  21. Leffel v. Municipal Court (1976) 54 Cal.App.3d 569.
  22. People v. Love (1980) 111 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1.
  23. Penal Code 647(b).
  24. In re White (1979) 97 Cal.App.3d 141.
  25. CALCRIM 1155. Prostitution: Agreeing to Engage in Act.
  26. Same.
  27. Kim v. Superior Court (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 937.
  28. In re Cheri T. (1999) 70 Cal.App.4th 1400.
  29. Kim v. Superior Court (2006), endnote 27.
  30. Penal Code 647(b)(5): "Notwithstanding paragraphs (1) to (3), inclusive, this subdivision does not apply to a child under 18 years of age who is alleged to have engaged in conduct to receive money or other consideration that would, if committed by an adult, violate this subdivision. A commercially exploited child under this paragraph may be adjudged a dependent child of the court pursuant to paragraph (2) of subdivision (b) of Section 300 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and may be taken into temporary custody pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 305 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, if the conditions allowing temporary custody without warrant are met."
  31. See California Legislative Counsel's Digest of Senate Bill 1322 (linked to in text).
  32. Same. See also Welfare and Institutions Code 300(b)(2).
  33. Welfare and Institutions Code 305.
  34. Welfare and Institutions Code 319(f)(1)(A).
  35. Penal Code 647(b).
  36. 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."
  37. Penal Code 647(k).
  38. Same.
  39. Same.
  40. Same.
  41. Vehicle Code Section 13201.5(c), endnote 10.
  42. Same.
  43. Los Angeles Municipal Code 41.70 -- Nuisance vehicles - Prostitution.
  44. Same.
  45. CALCRIM 3408. Entrapment.
  46. People v. Barraza (1979) 23 Cal.3d 675.
  47. CALCRIM 3408. Entrapment, endnote 45.
  48. Same.
  49. See Penal Code 415: "Any of the following persons shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not more than 90 days, a fine of not more than four hundred dollars ($400), or both such imprisonment and fine..." See also Penal Code 602 PC: "Except as provided... every person who willfully commits a trespass ...is guilty of a misdemeanor:..."
  50. See Penal Code 647 PC -- Disorderly Conduct.
  51. Penal Code 266h. See also CALCRIM 1150. Pimping
  52. Penal Code 266i. See also CALCRIM 1151. Pandering.
  53. Beverly Hills sex crimes defense attorney John Murray is a seasoned criminal defense lawyer and featured legal expert commentator on Fox News. He defends those accused of prostitution / solicitation throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
  54. Penal Code 653.22(a). See also CALCRIM 1156. Loitering: For Prostitution.
  55. Penal Code 653.22(a).
  56. California Penal Code 314 PC.
  57. CALCRIM 1160. Indecent Exposure.
  58. Penal Code 261(a).
  59. Penal Code 264(a).
  60. Penal Code 264(c).

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