Penal Code 647(i) PC | Peeking while Loitering

Penal Code 647(i) PC | Peeking while Loitering

Penal Code 647(i) PC is a California law that makes it a crime to loiter outside someone’s property and look inside with the intent to invade their privacy. This section is commonly referred to as “peeping while loitering.” It’s aimed at preventing and punishing voyeurism.

The crime consists of a few elements that the prosecution must prove for a conviction:

  • You loitered on someone else’s property, meaning you lingered or stayed there for no apparent reason;
  • While loitering, you looked through a hole or opening, into a window or door, or otherwise invaded someone’s privacy; AND
  • You did so with the specific intent of invading the other person’s privacy.

Let’s break these elements down further.

What Does it Mean to Loiter?

“Loitering” under this law means lingering or hanging around a property without any legal purpose. Some examples of loitering include:

  • Hanging around outside someone’s home or peering into their windows;
  • Standing outside a person’s place of work and looking through their office window;
  • Parking across from someone’s house and watching them;
  • Lingering in a parking lot or alley near someone’s apartment;
  • Pacing back and forth on the sidewalk outside a home.

As you can see, loitering refers to being present on or around someone’s property without a good reason for being there. If you have a valid purpose, like making a delivery, then it’s not loitering.

Looking into a Building

The second element is looking into a building through some kind of opening. This includes looking through:

  • A window;
  • A door, if it’s cracked open;
  • A hole in the wall;
  • Blinds or curtains;
  • A fence slat.

It also includes using visual aids like binoculars, a telescope, or camera to look inside someone’s property. So for example, if you use binoculars to peer into someone’s second-story bedroom window while loitering outside their home, you could be charged under this statute.

Invasion of Privacy

The last element is that you must have the specific purpose of invading someone’s privacy when you look into the building. Maybe you’re spying on someone in a private place where they have an expectation of privacy, like their home. If so, you could be charged with 647(i) PC.

But let’s say you glance into a store window out of casual interest while walking down the street. This wouldn’t meet the invasion of privacy requirement because stores don’t have the same expectation of privacy as a home.

So in summary, this law targets people who deliberately lurk outside buildings and peep inside to violate someone’s privacy. It doesn’t criminalize glancing into places like shops or restaurants.

Penalties for Peeking While Loitering

A first offense for peeking while loitering under Penal Code 647(i) is a:

  • Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in county jail;
  • A fine of up to $1,000; or
  • Both jail time and a fine.

If you have a prior conviction under this statute, a second offense becomes a felony in California. The potential penalties increase to:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison;
  • A fine up to $10,000; or
  • Both imprisonment and a fine.

A conviction will also lead to having a permanent criminal record. This can negatively impact your job prospects, professional licensing, and more.

Legal Defenses

If you’ve been accused of violating Penal Code 647(i), working with an experienced California criminal defense lawyer is critical. A skilled attorney can often get charges reduced or dismissed by raising defenses like:

  • You didn’t loiter – For example, maybe you were just walking by or driving past a property when you briefly glanced inside. This doesn’t constitute loitering.
  • No invasion of privacy – You looked into a place where people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, like a store or restaurant.
  • No criminal intent – You didn’t have the intent to invade someone’s privacy when you looked into the building. Perhaps you were checking to see if a friend was home.
  • Mistaken identity – You weren’t the person looking into the building. Eyewitnesses sometimes make mistakes.
  • False accusations – The alleged “victim” fabricated the accusations against you for reasons like revenge.

An experienced lawyer can often get charges reduced or dismissed by presenting evidence and witness statements to prove one of these defenses.

Related Offenses

Penal Code 647(i) is part of California’s disorderly conduct laws. Some other related offenses include:

Peeking while loitering differs from “regular” invasion of privacy under 647(j) PC because it requires loitering. 647(j) just requires looking into a private place.

Penal Code 647(i) is also distinct from “peeping Tom” laws under Penal Code 647(k). Those laws prohibit looking into a room occupied by another person in order to invade their privacy. 647(i) doesn’t require anyone to be present inside the building.

Fighting These Allegations

Penal Code 647(i) PC can be used to harass innocent people. For example, a neighbor who doesn’t like you might call the police and falsely accuse you of peeking into their home. Or someone might misinterpret your glancing into a building as criminal behavior.

If you are accused of loitering and peeking under this statute, it’s essential to hire an attorney immediately. An experienced lawyer can often get charges reduced or dismissed.

Here are some examples of how a skilled California criminal defense attorney could fight these allegations:

  • Point out you had a valid purpose for being on the property, so you weren’t loitering
  • Obtain video surveillance footage showing you did NOT look into the building
  • Interview witnesses who saw you weren’t peeking or spying on anyone
  • Present evidence you didn’t have the required criminal intent
  • Negotiate with the prosecutor to get charges dropped or reduced

With an experienced lawyer on your side, you can avoid the severe penalties of a Penal Code 647(i) conviction. Your attorney can also help seal or expunge the charges from your record if they are dismissed.

Do not try to defend yourself against these allegations or speak to the police without legal counsel. Anything you say prior to hiring a lawyer can be used to build a case against you.

Speak with a Defense Lawyer

Penal Code 647(i) PC can result in misdemeanor or felony charges that carry stiff sentences. But an experienced California criminal defense attorney can often get the charges reduced or dismissed. To discuss your case in a free and confidential consultation, contact an attorney today.