Around 25 percent of Americans have had sex in a public place. Because having sex in public is usually illegal thanks to public indecency laws, most of those people have committed the crime of lewd acts in public -and to some people, that’s considered part of the thrill. But for others, having sex in a car or other mostly secluded public place isn’t just a way to get a kinky fix, but the most convenient or remote location to have a private moment with their partner. That can be the case for parents who can’t find time alone in their house or young people who can’t get away from their roommates. So is having sex in your car illegal? Not always, but usually.
Public Indecency aka Lewd Conduct in Public: 647(a) PC
The most common crime committed by people who have sex in their car is public indecency, charged under California Penal Code section 647(a) (PC). The law states that this crime occurs when someone “solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view.” In other words, if someone attempts to get someone to participate in “lewd conduct” or if they actually participate in such behavior, they can face criminal charges.
In this statute, lewd conduct is defined as “willfully solicited or engaged in the touching of your own or another person’s genitals, buttocks, or breasts in order to sexually arouse or provide sexual gratification to yourself or someone else or in order to annoy or cause offense to others.” So it’s important to note that any contact with genitals must be sexual or intentionally made to annoy or offend someone else, so an accidental brush against someone’s butt wouldn’t count.
Is it Illegal to Have Sex in Your Car in California?
Having sex is done to sexually arouse and gratify at least one of the two parties involved, so this part of the law is met automatically in most cases. While it is possible to dispute this aspect of the charge, this defense can be challenging. For example, if the police caught someone holding someone else’s penis in a car, the couple could argue the penis was being touched for a non-sexual purpose, such as checking for an infection or injury.
Since the conduct in these cases is generally unarguably sexual, prosecutions of 647(a) PC usually come down to whether or not the couple was in public or private. Simply being on private property isn’t enough because the law still considers it unlawful if you are within public view. So it is illegal to have sex in a car in your driveway if you parked somewhere people can easily see from the street.
That being said, the California Supreme Court has said that the nature of the law is for “protecting onlookers who might be offended by the proscribed conduct.” So if you are in the middle of the desert and you haven’t seen a single person around for the last hour, it would be legal under California law to have sex in public, whether the activity takes place in your car or elsewhere.
Because the crime relies on whether or not someone could realistically see you, if you make an effort to cover up all of your vehicle’s windows, you should be legally covered because you attempted to ensure you were not in public view. The same applies if you made love in a zipped-up tent.
What About Indecent Exposure?
Another charge some people associate with sexual activities in a car is the crime of indecent exposure, charged under California Penal Code section 314 (PC). But unless you’re trying to get people to see you while you are engaged in sexual activities, you haven’t violated this law as it requires someone to attempt to bring attention to their genitals for sexual arousal or to annoy or offend someone. So if you’re trying to keep your genitals concealed from the public at all, then you haven’t committed indecent exposure.
Surprisingly, you’d be more likely to face these charges if you mooned or flashed people from your car window than if you discreetly tried to have sex in a parked car. If you’re on a busy street and get butt naked before getting it on in the backseat though, you could be charged with both indecent exposure and lewd conduct in public.
What About Reckless Driving?
It’s worth mentioning that if you got “road head” or had any other sexual interaction while driving, you could also be charged with reckless driving. This charge would depend on what happened inside your car, and where and how you were driving. For example, if you were driving on an empty freeway and seemed to be breaking no other driving laws, it would be more difficult for the prosecution to argue that you were recklessly operating a vehicle. On the other hand, they would have a much stronger case if you were in a suburb and ran a stop sign.
The good news is that all of these sex crimes are misdemeanors. The bad news is that they are still very serious and could leave you behind bars if you don’t work with an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with sex offenses and driving crimes. In California, both lewd conduct in public and indecent exposure can result in a six-month county jail sentence and $1,000 in fines.
While the sentences for these two offenses are the same, only indecent exposure requires you to register as a sex offender. Lawyers often push for plea bargains that reduce the charges to lewd conduct in public rather than another sex crime, as 647(a) PC will not subject you to mandatory sex offender registration.
Reckless driving is also a misdemeanor offense and carries only a maximum sentence of 90 days. Unfortunately, it can also result in the loss of your driving privileges and your vehicle being impounded.
Fighting Criminal Public Sex Accusations
The bottom line is that if you crave a little more intimacy in your relationship, you can have sex in your car or public, as long as you’re actually out of site in a protected area like a tent or a car with covered windows. If you are charged with a sex crime though, contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. While there are many defenses to these crimes, it is also easy to harm your case by saying the wrong thing.
If you have been accused of participating in any public sex act in California, please contact attorney Peter M. Liss to discuss your case in a free consultation. Please call (760) 643-4050 to discuss your in his San Diego criminal law firm case as soon as possible.