Loitering is the act of lingering or “hanging around” a public place with no apparent purpose or reason for being there. Loitering by itself is generally not a crime, but is an element to some offenses in California, such as trespass, loitering with the intent to solicit the purchase of alcohol, loitering at school, and peeking while loitering or “Peeping Tom” laws. 

A person can be charged with loitering as a separate offense, but they will usually be charged with another crime too. That is because the crime of loitering requires the defendant to have been lingering with the intent to commit a crime.

How Is Peeping Tom Law Defined in California?

California “Peeping Tom” laws include peeking while loitering and criminal invasion of privacy. Together the laws make it a misdemeanor offense to watch or take pictures of someone in a place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, and without their consent. 

The crime of peeking while loitering includes the following elements:

  1. A person who, while loitering, prowling, or wandering upon the private property of another at any time,
  2. Peeks in the door or window or any inhabited building or structure,
  3. Without visible or lawful business with the owner or occupant.

It is important to note that a building or structure is inhabited if someone uses it as a place of residence. A peeking can take place even if no one is inside at the time.

In California, the law addressing invasion of privacy prohibits three separate crimes:

  1. Using a device, such as a telescope, binoculars, camera, or mobile phone to look through a hole or opening into a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, tanning booth, or the inside of any area where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade their privacy.
  2. Using a concealed camera of any type to secretly photograph or record another person under or through that person’s clothing, without their consent or knowledge, and with the intent to arouse or appeal to the sexual desires of that person and invade the privacy of the other person where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  3. Using a concealed camera of any type to secretly photograph or record another person in a state or full or partial undress for the purpose of viewing their body or undergarments, without their consent or knowledge, in the interior of a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, fitting room, dressing room, or tanning booth, or the inside of any area where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, with the intent to invade their privacy.

What is the Punishment for a Peeping Tom Conviction in California?

In California, both peeking while loitering and criminal invasion of privacy are types of disorderly conduct and are misdemeanor offenses. Potential penalties include up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

If the defendant has been convicted of these crimes before, or the victim is under age 18, they might face increased penalties. A defendant guilty of invasion of privacy might be required to serve up to one year in jail, pay a fine of up to $2,000, or both.

Judges do have the option to sentence defendants to probation instead of jail. The defendant will be required to comply with court-ordered conditions in order to avoid jail time. These conditions might include:

  • Paying restitution to the victim;
  • Reporting to the court or probation officer on a regular basis.

If a defendant violates any of the terms of their probation they might have to serve the remainder of their sentence in jail. 

Will I Have to Register as a Sex Offender in California?

California maintains a registered sex offender database with the California Department of Justice. Anyone convicted of a sex crime is required to register as a sex offender with their local law enforcement agency. Sex offenders who must register are notified of the requirement before they are released from jail, a mental hospital, or probation. They have five days to complete their registration after being released. 

Depending on the sex crime the offender committed, certain information about them is public. Some convictions are in the “home address category,” which means the offender’s home address is posted in the registry. Other convictions are in the “zip code category” and the offender’s zip code, city, and county are posted, but not their home address. 

Defendants convicted of a Peeping Tom offense are not required to register as a sex offender in California. However, the court does have discretion to require registration if the defendant committed the crimes of peeking while loitering or criminal invasion of privacy because of sexual compulsion or the purpose of sexual gratification.

Can I Be Charged with Any Other Crimes Connected to Peeping Tom Laws?

Depending on the circumstances, a defendant charged with Peeping Tom violations of peeking while loitering or criminal invasion of privacy might also face related charges such as, burglary, public intoxication, trespassing, or criminal loitering. To be convicted of loitering the person must be lingering with the purpose of committing a crime.

It is also possible for a person to be charged with the federal crime of criminal voyeurism.

What are the Common Defenses Associated with Peeping Tom Laws?

The defenses available to a defendant charged with Peeping Tom laws will depend on which of the laws they were charged with breaking. The prosecutor must prove each element of the crime, so the defenses must target one or more of the elements.

Some of the defenses to peeking while loitering include:

  • The defendant might be able to claim they were not on private property;
  • The defendant’s behavior does not fit the definition of loitering;
  • The defendant was on the property legally or had a legal reason to be there;
  • The building the defendant was charged with peeking into was not inhabited.

Common defenses to a charge of criminal invasion of privacy include:

  • There was no reasonable expectation of privacy;
  • The alleged victim had consented to being recorded or photographed;
  • The defendant lacked the required intent to invade someone else’s privacy;
  • The defendant did not intend to be sexually aroused or gratified.

Should I Contact a Lawyer about My Peeping Tom Charge in California?

The laws that make up Peeping Tom crimes include several elements that the prosecution must prove and depending on the circumstances there could be significant penalties if you are convicted. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, the defendant might be at risk of a court requiring them to register as a sex offender. 

It is in your best interest to contact a California criminal law attorney. Consulting with an experienced attorney is an important step to understanding the charges against you and the potential punishment.

An experienced attorney can help you determine if there are any possible defenses to the crimes you have been charged with. They can negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor and represent you during any court appearances or at trial.