There are quite a number of massage parlors throughout Los Angeles County. And for the most part, there’s no issue regarding these relaxing establishments.
However, we all know of an instance where one of these parlors was “busted” and/or shut down by police because law enforcement believed there to be illicit sexual activity taking place.
The main mechanism district attorneys use to charge massage parlor customers, employees and/or operators for improper activity is California Penal Code Section 647, which governs the solicitation of prostitution.
Unfortunately for so many hard-working Californians, small massage parlors and spa owners are getting swept up in the law enforcement frenzy assuming all such businesses are involved in criminal behavior.
There are several other Penal Code sections law enforcement has or could use against massage parlors and spas as deterrents for sexual misconduct.
Pimping: gaining income from a portion of prostitution fees.
Any person who, knowing another person is a prostitute, lives or derives support or maintenance in whole or in part from the earnings or proceeds of the person’s prostitution, or from money loaned or advanced to or charged against that person by any keeper or manager or inmate of a house or other place where prostitution is practiced or allowed, or who solicits or receives compensation for soliciting for the person, is guilty of pimping. PC § 266h.
Lewd Conduct: committing an act of disorderly conduct.
An individual who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view is guilty of lewd conduct. PC § 647(a).
Pandering: inducing, scheming or threatening with the intent of engaging in prostitution.
Any person is guilty of pandering if he or she procures another person for the purpose of prostitution, by promises, threats, violence, or by any device or scheme, causes, induces, persuades, or encourages another person to become a prostitute. PC § 266i.
Indecent Exposure: obscene and disorderly exposure.
Any person who, willfully and lewdly, exposes his or her person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other people to be offended or annoyed thereby, is guilty of indecent exposure. PC § 314.
Supervising or Aiding a Prostitute: directing or managing another for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense.
It is unlawful for any person to direct, supervise, recruit, or otherwise aid another person in the commission of soliciting or engaging in any act of prostitution, or loitering in any public place with the intent to commit prostitution. Anyone found to collect or receive all or part of the proceeds earned from an act or acts of prostitution committed by another person is also guilty of supervising or aiding a prostitute. PC § 653.23.
Loitering with the intent to commit prostitution: loitering for the purposes of engaging in a prostitution offense.
An individual who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view. PC § 653.22(a).
Public agencies can also use the varied web of local, county and/or statewide regulations to shut the door of parlors or spas they hold in their sights. For instance, California Business and Professions Code 4600-4620, aptly entitled “the Massage Therapy Act,” regulates massage parlors in California until January 1, 2022.
BPC Section 4600.5 itself clearly states that:
It is the intent of the Legislature that broad control over land use in regulating massage establishments be vested in local governments so that they may manage those establishments in the best interests of the individual community, and that the requirements and practice of the profession of massage therapy remain a matter of statewide concern, regulation, and oversight. Local governments should give strong consideration to establishing a registration program that grants local governments the ability to either suspend or revoke a registration of massage business for specific violations.
Following January 1, 2022, BPC Section 4621 will automatically repeal the Massage Therapy Act, leaving regulation largely to local city and county ordinances, as intended.
Under current legal doctrine, however, massage therapists and parlors are prohibited from engaging in activity such as:
- Sexually suggestive advertising related to massage services.
- Sexual activity on the premises of a massage establishment where massage is provided for compensation.
- Sexual activity while providing massage services for compensation.
- Providing massage of the genitals or anal region.
- Providing massage of female breasts without the written consent of the person receiving the massage and a referral from a licensed California health care provider.
See BPC § 4609
Local city and county ordinances customarily include permit requirements for massage therapists, parlors, spas and their operators. Violation of these city regulations and/or state laws can result in an array of sanctions including criminal convictions, civil fines, administrative penalties and/or incarceration.
When it comes to violation of permitting laws, the punishment varies. For example, under the City of Los Angeles Massage Code Section 103.205, operating a massage parlor or out-call service without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
However, additional violations of City of Los Angeles Code Section 103.205 simply subject the perpetrator to administrative sanctions and civil remedies.
On the other hand, prostitution is a misdemeanor criminal offense that is punishable by up to six months in jail, in addition to costly court fines and/or civil penalties. If the defendant has a prior prostitution conviction, he or she will automatically be sentenced to a minimum of 45 days in jail. For a third prostitution conviction, the minimum jail requirement is 90 days.
There are various defenses to the plethora of laws, regulations and ordinances law enforcement officials can use to charge massage employees, customers and owners. An appropriate defense will depend on the specific defendant, the particular circumstances of the case and what charges are being brought, in addition to other factors. However, there have been many situations in which zealous undercover officers become overly aggressive and have been found to push suspects into conduct they would not normally take part in. In this situation, a skilled criminal defense attorney would be able to put forth a valid defense of entrapment, for instance.
Furthermore, if illicit conduct is uncovered as part of an illegal search, the defendant could argue that law enforcement lacked sufficient probable cause to conduct the search in the first place. In these cases, certain evidence could be suppressed in court and could not be used against the defendant. For example, the police are prohibited from searching a person or their property unless:
- they can furnish a valid California search warrant, providing specificity as to the items sought and the property to be searched;
- probable cause for a search is present (i.e., the reasonable impression that an individual poses a threat to officer safety or is actively engaged in criminal conduct);
- or a defendant voluntarily agrees to the search. If the officer(s) cannot prove its legality, a search may be found to have violated a defendant’s Fourth Amendment Constitutional rights. And if the search is deemed illegal, even if illegal activity is discovered, evidence of the same it is inadmissible in court and thus no Penal Code violation can be applied.
Although there are some businesses that work under the guise of an above-board establishment but in actuality operate as a den for lewd and unlawful acts, this only relates to a small minority. The City of Los Angeles and other city, county and state officials can be more than overzealous in their regulation of these establishments.
Massage parlor sex crimes can be considered “wobbler offenses” that range in penalties from administrative fines and fees to felony convictions—depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime, the defendant’s criminal history, and more.
We Can Help
If you have been charged with a massage parlor sex crime violation, it is important that you meet with a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney immediately to obtain the lowest sentence possible. Being accused of such a crime can lead to serious consequences for those convicted.
Working with a skilled attorney will help your case tremendously. The ideal attorney can research and apply the right defenses to your particular case. Furthermore, a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can prove probable cause was not present or uncover police misconduct, protecting your constitutional rights where necessary. If you or someone you know have been accused of a violation involving a massage parlor sex crime, it is critical that you meet with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
Need a Criminal Defense Attorney? CALL NOW: 310-274-6529
Seppi Esfandi is an Expert Criminal Defense Attorney who has over 20 years of practice defending a variety of criminal cases.