The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Fred Willard's Hanky Spanky Could Cost Him, But Was it Illegal?

It has not been a good 24 hours for Fred Willard. Last night, at about 8:45 pm, Willard was arrested for doing something not altogether unusual: self-pleasuring. The problem was, he was in a movie theater, reports TMZ.

Now, before your jaw drops in shock and you begin to judge him, note that he was in an adult porn theatre. This was no Disney flick. One would imagine most of the patrons of such establishments were doing the same thing. In fact, what he was doing might not have even been illegal.

Nonetheless, after the LAPD caught him red-handed, Willard was arrested and charged with “lewd conduct.” One would imagine the charge is under California Penal Code 647 (a), which governs such situations. The vague statute is punishes anyone 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.”

Obviously, one man’s lude is another’s quick scratch. The court, sensing the inherent problems of such vagaries, created a five-part test to ensure that the law complied with due process and fairness.

  1. There must be “sexually motivated conduct involving the touching of the genitals, buttocks, or female breast;”
  2. The conduct must be for purposes of sexual arousal, gratification, or affront;”
  3. The conduct must occur “in any public place, or any place open to the public or exposed to public view;”
  4. The conduct must occur in the presence of another person or persons “who may be offended;”
  5. The defendant must know, or should have known, “of the presence of persons who may be offended by his conduct.”

Simple, right? Let’s do the rundown.

  1. Check, if what the LAPD says is true. He was allegedly masturbating in an adult movie theatre.
  2. Check.
  3. Check. Courts have previously held that private booths at adult bookstores qualified. Basically, any place that the public can enter qualifies.
  4. Maybe.
  5. Maybe.

The key for Willard’s attorney is going to involve the fourth and fifth points. If Willard was alone in the theatre, then no one else was present to be offended. Even if he wasn’t, Willard’s lawyer may be able to persuade the judge that people who hang out in adult movie theatres aren’t usually the type to be offended by public masturbation. It would be a reasonable assumption that a little self grope-and-tickle was perfectly appropriate in such an establishment.

Even if he’s convicted, the maximum punishment the law allows is six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. However, unless he has a history of lewd conduct, the judge probably wouldn’t make him do jail time for a first time offense.

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