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Is Loitering a Crime in California?

June 16, 2020

By itself, loitering isn’t a crime.

Is Loitering a Crime in California?

You have probably heard of loitering — perhaps on TV or in a movie, or on a sign. It basically means that someone is hanging around a public or private place for no apparent purpose. For example, if a group of teenage boys are hanging outside of a convenience store, the owner of that store may say that they are loitering (or even put up a sign that prohibits loitering in front of his store). But is loitering actually a crime?

By itself, loitering is not a criminal offense in California. As a criminal attorney in San Bernardino, CA can explain, loitering is only a crime if it is done in connection with certain other acts. Specifically, you may be charged with a crime related to loitering if you:

  • Loiter to commit a crime
  • Trespass
  • Fail to disperse
  • Loiter with the intent to commit prostitution
  • Loiter to solicit the purchase of alcohol
  • Loiter at a school

For example, Dorothy is an alcoholic. The bar won’t sell her any booze because she is visibly intoxicated. So she stands outside of the bar, asking people to buy alcohol for her. In this instance, she may be charged with loitering to solicit the purchase of alcohol. This is a misdemeanor offense. A person convicted of this crime could be sentenced to prison for up to 6 months and/or required to pay a fine of up to $1,000.

Similarly, if you are loitering somewhere and don’t follow a lawful order to leave, you could be charged with failure to disperse. Under this law, it is a crime for 2 or more people to disturb the peace and then refuse to comply with a lawful order by a police officer. This is misdemeanor offense, punishable by imprisonment for up to 6 months in county jail, and/or a restitution for any damages caused by the crime.

It is also a crime to loiter at any school or a public place where children normally gather, such as a playground. A person can only be charged with this crime, however, if they didn’t have any lawful purpose for being there and if they intended to commit a crime there if they could. For example, if a group of young adults is hanging out at an elementary school playground, and they have cans of spray paint in their backpacks, they could be charged with this crime because (1) they didn’t have a lawful reason to be there; and (2) the spray paint indicates that they may have intended to vandalize the school grounds. Loitering at a school is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by imprisonment in county jail for up to 6 months and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.

While loitering itself isn’t a crime, there are a number of offenses associated with loitering that could lead to a criminal charge. If you have been charged with any California crime, the Chambers Law Firm can help. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a consultation with a criminal attorney in San Bernardino, CA.

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