California Loitering Laws

Under California law, “loitering” itself is not a crime. However, it can be charged as an offense under certain California Penal Code sections if it is done with certain other acts. Some of these penal code sections include:

Loitering” is the act of lingering in a public or private place with no apparent purpose.

Examples of illegal acts under the above statutes include:

  • John wanders around on his neighbor's property with no reason and without his neighbor's permission.
  • Kia, dressed in revealing clothing, hangs out at a bus stop and flirts with guys as they walk or drive past.
  • Paco hangs out in the parking lot of a bar and asks entering customers if they will buy him drinks and sneak them outside.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a defendant can raise if accused of a crime under any of California's unlawful loitering laws. These include showing that the defendant:

Penalties

A violation of the above laws is charged as a misdemeanor (as opposed to an infraction or a felony). Specific penalties may include:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

Please note that in lieu of jail time a judge may award a defendant with misdemeanor (or summary) probation.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

no trespassing sign hanging on barbed wire

1. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 602 PC - trespass?

Penal Code 602 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of criminal trespass. A person commits trespassing when he or she enters, or remains on, someone else's property without permission or a right to do so.

PC 602 describes over thirty activities that are considered criminal trespass.

The most common acts that are prohibited by California trespassing laws include:

  • entering someone else's property with the intent to damage that property,
  • entering someone else's property with the intent to interfere with or obstruct the business activities that are conducted there, and
  • entering and "occupying" another person's property without permission.

Other, more specific forms of trespass in California include things like:

  • taking soil, dirt, or stone off of someone else's land without permission,
  • taking oysters or other shellfish off of someone else's land, and
  • cutting down a neighbor's trees without permission.1

The vast majority of trespass cases are charged as misdemeanors. Potential penalties can include:

2. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 416 PC – failing to disperse?

Penal Code 416 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for two or more people to disturb the peace and then refuse to comply with a lawful order by police personnel to disperse.3

Because freedom of assembly is a Constitutional right protected by the First Amendment, courts have said that these laws can apply only to unlawful assembly, not to assembly itself:

"We construe Penal Code section 416 as empowering a public official to demand dispersal only where there is probable cause to believe that the purpose of an assembly is unlawful, according to the facts and circumstances of each individual case."4

A violation of PC 416 is charged as a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • restitution, or payment for any damages caused by the crime.
prostitute hanging out by car

3. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 653.22 PC – loitering for/with intent to commit prostitution?

Penal Code 653.22 PC makes it a crime for a person to loiter in a public place for the purpose of engaging in prostitution.5

This law allows police to arrest someone who has not actually engaged in or solicited prostitution. Police may arrest a person based only on their belief that she intended to engage in prostitution.

Prostitution” is defined as sexual conduct for money or some other kind of payment.6

A violation of PC 653.22 is charged as a misdemeanor. Specific penalties may include:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.7

4. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 303a PC – loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol?

California Penal Code 303a PC makes it a crime for a person to loiter in or around a bar or restaurant for the purpose of asking other patrons or customers to buy drinks for him.8

This little-known crime is most often charged against people who may also be facing charges for violating one of California's other laws regulating alcohol consumption or public morality--such as:

A violation of PC 653.22 is charged as a misdemeanor. Specific penalties may include:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.9

5. What is prohibited under California Penal Code 653b PC – loitering at a school?

California Penal Code 653b PC makes it a crime for a person to loiter at either:

  • any school, or
  • any public place at or near which children normally congregate (such as a playground or public pool).10

But it is important to note that a person is only guilty of violating PC 653b if:

  • the accused did not have any lawful purpose for being at that place, and
  • the accused intended to commit a crime at that place if the opportunity arose.11

A violation of PC 653b is charged as a misdemeanor. Specific penalties may include:

  • imprisonment in county jail for up to six months, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.12
criminal defense attorney working

6. Are there legal defenses to accusations of violating a loitering law?

A person accused of breaking a California loitering law can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.

Three common defenses to these crimes are:

  1. no “loitering,”
  2. falsely accused, and/or
  3. no probable cause.

6.1. No “loitering”

A person can only be convicted under a loitering law if he in fact was loitering, or wandering around with no apparent purpose. This means it is always a solid legal defense for a defendant to show that he was not loitering (e.g., he was in a place for a specific reason or a specific purpose)

6.2. Falsely accused

Unfortunately, it is not at all uncommon for people to get prosecuted based on false allegations. People get falsely accused out of

  • jealousy,
  • revenge, and
  • anger.

Thus, it is a valid defense for a defendant to say that a party falsely accused him of violating one of California's loitering laws.

6.3. 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.

If a person was stopped or arrested for violating a loitering law, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

Were you accused of violating a loitering law in California? Call us for help…

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime under Penal Codes 602, 416, 653.22, 303a, or 653b, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LawFirm.


Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 602

  2. See same.

  3. California Penal Code 416

  4. See Chambers v. Municipal Court, 65 Cal. App. 3d 904.

  5. California Penal Code 653.22

  6. California Penal Code 653.20 

  7. California Penal Code 19 

  8. California Penal Code 303a 

  9. See same.

  10. California Penal Code 653b 

  11. See same.

  12. See same.

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