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Panhandling in the State of California

Panhandling is illegal in the State of California under Penal Code 647(c); however, begging is not inherently illegal and may in some cases be a protected right. In order for Penal Code 647(c) to have been violated, certain conditions must be met. Panhandling is defined as an aggressive form of begging or "begging for alms". 

It should be noted that individual cities within the State of California may have their own rules on begging through the use of aggressive tactics, so defenses for charges of panhandling may vary depending on where you reside in California. This article will only cover charges of Panhandling on a state level. Questions regarding specific areas in California on Panhandling charges should be brought up with a lawyer from the area. 

Read on to learn more about the different forms of Panhandling and how your rights can protect you.

What is Panhandling?

Panhandling is where an individual solicits money and/or donations. Panhandling is illegal under Penal Code 647(c), specifically when the act is aggressive or threatening in nature. It is stated under Code 647(c) that, "every person who willfully and maliciously obstructs the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk, or other public place or on or in any place open to the public is guilty of a misdemeanor. Nothing in this section affects the power of a county or a city to regulate conduct upon a street, sidewalk, or other public place or on or in a place open to the public.”

When is begging legal?

It is important to know that begging for donations is not always a crime. Code 647(c) applies to forms of begging that involve aggressive tactics; therefore, if an individual is begging in a peaceful and non-obstructive manner, most likely they will be protected under the First Amendment, the right to free speech. Code 647(c) is also only directed towards begging on public property, as opposed to private property; however, that is not to say that begging on private property can't be considered a criminal offense. Begging in private spaces may fall under different charges, such as trespassing. Other crimes that are related to Panhandling include: stalking, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, etc.

What is the difference between private and public property?

The difference between private and public property may seem obvious, but the distinction is less clear than one would likely think. Below are some examples to clarify the difference between public and private property. 

Public property are places such as:

  • buildings owned by the government (i.e. libraries)
  • sidewalks
  • public parks
  • public parking spaces.
  • Public transportation, such as buses

Places that fall under the category of private properties are:

  • residential areas such as apartments and houses
  • stores
  • private store parking lots

Panhandling is a misdemeanor in the State of California that could result in charges of $1,000 and/or up to a year in county jail; however, there are possible defenses against charges of Panhandling.  


Regardless of the classification of the offense, it is important that you seek the assistance of competent legal counsel to help you best understand your legal defense while identifying an outcome that best minimizes your risk. We here at the H Law group patiently await your call.

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