California's "Peeping Tom" Laws 
Penal Code 647(i) and (j)

Penal Code 647 (i) and (j) are California's "Peeping Tom" laws. These sections make it a misdemeanor to spy on -- or take pictures of someone -- in a private place without that person's consent.1

Technically, these laws are known as:

Punishment under PC 647(i) and (j) can include:

  • Up to six (6) months in jail; and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.2

To help you better understand these “Peeping Tom” offense, our California criminal defense lawyers, discuss, below:

man in car with camera
California Penal Code 647i "peeking while loitering" is the classic “Peeping Tom” law.

1. What are California's “Peeping Tom” laws?

California Penal Code 647(i) and (j) set forth California's “Peeping Tom” laws. They prohibit certain invasive acts against people who have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Let's take a brief look at each of these crimes.

1.1. Penal Code 647(i) – peeking while loitering

California Penal Code 647i "peeking while loitering" is the classic “Peeping Tom” law. PC 647(i) makes it a crime to peek in the door or window of any inhabited structure while loitering on private property.

Example:  Tom sneaks into his neighbor's backyard. While there, he looks into their bedroom window and watches his neighbors make love.

Specifically, someone commits “peeking while loitering” when he or she:

  1. Delays, lingers, prowls, or wanders on someone else's private property;
  2. Without a lawful purpose for being there; and
  3. While there peeks in the door or window of an inhabited building or structure on the property.3

A building or structure is inhabited if someone uses it as a dwelling. It does not matter whether anyone is inside at the time of the alleged peeking.4

1.2. Penal Code 647(j) – criminal “invasion of privacy”

Penal Code 647(j) is California's criminal “invasion of privacy” law. It prohibits three distinct but related crimes:

  1. Using a device such as a telescope or binoculars to invade a person's privacy;
  2. Secretly photographing or recording a person's body under or through his or her clothing for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification; or
  3. Secretly recording or photographing another person in a private room in order to view that person's body or undergarments.5

Example: While shopping at The Grove, Billy sticks his phone under a girl's short skirt and records a short video. This “upskirt” video is an invasion of privacy under Penal Code 647(j).

arms through jail bars
Penal Code 647(i) and (j) are forms of “disorderly conduct” in California.

2. Penalties under Penal Code 647 (i) and (j)

2.1.Jail time and fine

Penal Code 647(i) and (j) are forms of “disorderly conduct” in California. 6 As such, they are misdemeanors, punishable by:

  • Up to six (6) months in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $1,000.7

2.2. Increased penalties for a minor victim or subsequent offense

Penalties for invasion of privacy under Penal Code 647(j) increase when:

  • It is the defendant's second or subsequent PC 647(j) offense,8 or
  • The victim is under the age of 18.9

Under either of these circumstances, invasion of privacy can be punished in California by:

  • Up to one (1) year in county jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $2,000.10

2.3. Probation instead of jail for “Peeping Tom” offenses

As with any misdemeanor, the judge can sentence to the defendant to misdemeanor ("summary") probation instead of jail.11

A defendant sentenced to probation will serve little or no jail time. But he or she will have to comply with certain conditions of probation. These often include:

  • Payment of victim restitution,12 and/or
  • Reporting periodically to the court for progress reports.

If the defendant violates these conditions, the judge might revoke probation and send the defendant to jail.13

2.4. Is a “Peeping Tom” convict required to register as a sex offender?

No. Conviction of a “Peeping Tom” offense does not require registration as a California sex offender.14

This applies equally to people who plead “guilty” or nolo contendere (“no contest”) to Penal Code 647(i) or (j).

3. Legal defenses to "Peeping Tom" charges in California

California's “Peeping Tom” laws have many parts. The prosecutor must prove each of these “elements of the crime” beyond a reasonable doubt.

The best defense to California's Peeping Tom laws will depend on the specific crime charged.

Below we discuss some of the most common legal defenses unique to Penal Code 647(i) and (j).

For a discussion of general legal defenses, you may wish to read our article on “Common Legal Defenses to California Crimes.”

3.1. Legal defenses to “peeking while loitering”

Legal defenses to Penal Code 647(i), peeking while loitering, include taking the position that:

  • The defendant was not on private property;
  • The defendant was not loitering;
  • The defendant had a lawful purpose for being on the property; and/or
  • The building into which the defendant peeked was not inhabited.15
delivery man holding two boxes
People with a lawful purpose for being on private property do not violate Penal Code 647(i) ]

3.2. Legal defenses to criminal invasion of privacy

Depending on the specific act alleged, legal defenses to Penal Code 647(j), invasion of privacy often include demonstrating that:

  • The alleged victim did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy;
  • The alleged victim consented to being photographed or recorded;
  • The defendant did not intend to invade anyone's privacy; and/or
  • The defendant did not intend to arouse or gratify him- or herself sexually.16

4. Federal video voyeurism law – 18 U.S. Code 1801

18 U.S. Code 1801 is the United States' “video voyeurism” law. 18 USC 1801 makes it 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.17

A person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” if a reasonable person would believe that his or her private parts would not be visible or photographed by the public.18

Examples of federal territories

Examples of federal territories include (without limitation):

  • Post offices,
  • National parks,
  • Federal courtrooms,
  • Most public airports, and
  • Veterans' Administration buildings.19

Penalties for “video voyeurism”

Violation of 18 USC 1801 is punishable by:

  • A fine of up to $100,000, and/or
  • Imprisonment of up to one year.20

Charged with being a “Peeping Tom”? Call us for help…

male operator smiling
Call us for help…

If you have been charged under Penal Code 647(i) or (j), we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Call us at 855-JUSTICE to speak in confidence to an experienced California sex crimes lawyer.

We have offices throughout California, including many in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Ventura, and San Diego counties, as well as Central California and the Bay Area.

We also have offices in Las Vegas and Reno if you have been charged with "Peering, peeping or spying into a dwelling" in Nevada (NRS 200.603).


Legal references:

  1. California Penal Code 647: “647.  
    Except as provided… 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.
    (j) (1) A person who looks through a hole or opening, into, or otherwise views, by means of any instrumentality, including, but not limited to, a periscope, telescope, binoculars, camera, motion picture camera, camcorder, or mobile phone, the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which the occupant has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of a person or persons inside. This subdivision does not apply to those areas of a private business used to count currency or other negotiable instruments.
    (2) A person who uses a concealed camcorder, motion picture camera, 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 that other person, for the purpose of viewing the body of, or the undergarments worn by, that other person, without the consent or knowledge of that other person, with the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person and invade the privacy of that other person, under circumstances in which the other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
    (3) (A) A person who uses a concealed camcorder, motion picture camera, 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 worn by, that other person, without the consent or knowledge of that other person, in the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the interior of any other area in which that other person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade the privacy of that other person.
    (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.
  2. Same. See also Penal Code 19 PC: “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."
  3. Penal Code 647(i), endnote 1. See also California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) 2916. Loitering: Peeking.
  4. CALCRIM 2916. See also Penal Code 459, California's "burglary" law.
  5. Penal Code 647(j), endnote 1.
  6. Other forms of disorderly conduct prohibited by Penal Code 647 include (without limitation):
  7. Penal Code 647; Penal Code 19.
  8. Penal Code 647(l)(1): “A second or subsequent violation of subdivision (j) is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
  9. Penal Code 647(l)(2): “If the victim of a violation of subdivision (j) was a minor at the time of the offense, the violation is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
  10. Penal Code 647(l)(1) and (2).
  11. Penal Code 1203 PC.
  12. Penal Code 1203 (b)(2)(D).
  13. Penal Code 1203.3 PC.
  14. See Penal Code 290(c).
  15. See
  16. See Penal Code 647(j)
  17. 18 USC 1801(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.”
  18. 18 USC 1801(b)(5): “[T]he 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.
  19. See 18 USC 5: “The term “United States”, as used in this title in a territorial sense, includes all places and waters, continental or insular, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, except the Canal Zone.
  20. 18 USC 1801(a).

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