It’s illegal in California to photograph or watch a person in a private location without their consent. Doing so is a misdemeanor under California’s “Peeping Tom” laws, punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000.

There are two sections of the California Penal Code that handle these situations. 

  • Penal Code 647(i) – Peeking while loitering
  • Penal Code 647(j) – Invasion of privacy

We’ll describe both offenses in greater detail below.

What is ‘peeking while loitering?’

The crime of “peeking while loitering” refers to a situation where someone peeks into a door or window while loitering on private property. For example, this could involve a case where someone sneaks into a neighbor’s backyard to watch them changing clothes through a window.

In order to convict someone of peeking while loitering, a prosecutor will have to show that three facts were true in the case.

  1. The defendant delayed, lingered, prowled or wandered while on private property.
  2. They had no lawful purpose for being there.
  3. They peeked through a window or door of an inhabited building. 

It doesn’t matter if anyone was inside of the alleged peeking.

What is criminal ‘invasion of privacy?’

A person could face criminal “invasion of privacy” charges in any of the following three scenarios:

  1. They used a device such as a telescope or binoculars to invade someone else’s privacy.
  2. They secretly photographed or recorded someone else’s body under or through their clothing, for their own sexual gratification. This includes situations like “upskirts” and “creepshots.”
  3. They secretly photographed or recorded someone else in a private room to view their body or undergarments. This can include recording someone else in a dressing room.

Both “peeking while loitering” and “invasion of privacy” are forms of disorderly conduct in California. 

Penalties for breaking California’s ‘Peeping Tom’ laws

Peeping Tom offenses in California are misdemeanors, punishable by up to six months in county jail, and fines of up to $1,000.

In cases where the victim was younger than 18 or if it was the defendant’s second offense, penalties double to a full year in county jail and fines up to $2,000.

As a misdemeanor offense, it’s often possible for the defendant to receive misdemeanor “summary” probation instead of jail time. When this happens, the defendant usually has to agree to certain conditions, such as:

  • Payment of restitution to the victim, and
  • Periodic check-ins with the court for progress reports

Those who are convicted of either “peeking while loitering” or “invasion of privacy” do not have to register as convicted sex offenders. 

Defenses against ‘Peeping Tom’ charges

As we mentioned above, in order to convict someone of a crime, a prosecutor in California must convince a jury that all of the important facts of the case were true. If any one of those elements is missing, the defendant cannot be convicted.

For example, in a “peeking while loitering” case, if the state cannot show that the defendant specifically intended to invade someone else’s privacy, then the defense can push for an acquittal or reduction of charges.

If you or someone you know has been accused of violating one of California’s “Peeping Tom” laws, an attorney can evaluate the facts of your case and start building your defense. Robert M. Helfend is a sex crimes defense attorney based in Los Angeles with a deep case history in “Peeping Tom” cases. Call today for your free case evaluation – 800-834-6434.