Being falsely accused of a sex crime is a deeply traumatizing experience. Because of the intimate nature of these types of crimes, just being accused is enough to ruin a person's life. At San Diego Criminal Attorney we consider all clients to be innocent until proven guilty and we are deeply committed to upholding the due process that is so crucial to our criminal justice system.
What is a California Sex Crime?
There are a variety of sex crimes that are explicitly codified under the California Penal Code. However, they all generally consist of any number of coerced or forceful sexual contacts with another person. Every sex crime, in some way or another, revolves around the concept of “consent”. This means that both parties to the sexual contact must consent to said sexual contact. This consent may be explicit (loudly stated) or implicit (generally understood).
In some cases, however, if one of the parties is a minor, then California law considers them unable to give proper consent. In other words, some sex crimes are actionable under California Penal Code if one of the parties is too young to give legally binding consent to sexual contact.
Because these sex crimes fall under the penal code, that means that they are criminal charges. In these cases, some law enforcement entity (most frequently the district attorney) will bring charges against the defendant. The defendant may either plead out by accepting a deal with the district attorney or take the case to trial. This trial will be presided over by a judge and a jury of the defendant’s peers.
Types of Sex Crimes in California
The vast majority of sex crimes are committed by a person who is known to the victim. It is a common misconception that only strangers subject their victims to sex crimes, though it usually is someone intimate with or close to the victim. As a result, most sex crimes are considered forms of domestic violence. The criminal courts in California take domestic violence crimes very seriously and it is a certainty that any district attorney in question will prosecute the sex crime to the absolute full extent of the law.
Consequently, most law enforcement departments and district attorneys have specific units or departments that are entirely dedicated to investigating and prosecuting sex crimes. There are various types of sex crime charges that may be leveled against the defendant, though in every case the district attorney will attempt to make as many charges stick as possible.
Examples of some common sex crimes in California that are violent in nature, and consequently would be charged as felonies, include rape (California Penal Code 261 PC), spousal rape (California Penal Code 262 PC), sexual battery and assault (California Penal Code 234.4 PC), oral copulation by force (California Penal Code 266(c) PC), and forcible penetration with a foreign object (California Penal Code 289 PC). Please note that California law treats instances of “date rape” as a form of simple rape under Penal Code 261 PC.
Examples of non-violent sex crimes in California include indecent exposure (California Penal Code 314 PC), prostitution and solicitation of prostitution (California Penal Code 647(b) PC), lewd acts with a minor child (California Penal Code 288 PC), statutory rape (California Penal Code 261.5 PC), and engaging in or soliciting lewd conduct in public (California Penal Code 647(a) PC). These crimes are considered “wobblers”, meaning that the district attorney can prosecute them as misdemeanors or felonies depending on the circumstances and severity of the crime in question.
Notice that statutory rape is considered distinct from other, more violent forms of assaultive rape. It is considered a wobbler if the difference in age between the sex offender and the victim is less than three (3) years. If the age difference is greater than that, then it is charged as a felony. Consensual sexual contact with a minor under eighteen (18) years old is still considered statutory rape as California law recognizes that a significant age difference renders consent inapplicable to the younger party.
It is important to note that the California penal system treats sex crimes committed against adults and sex crimes committed against minors as falling under the same general category. The most common sex crime committed against minor children is continuous sexual abuse of a child (California Penal Code 288.5 PC).
This charge is applicable if the sex offender committed the crime against a child under fourteen (14) years old. The sex offender must either live with or have recurring access to this minor child. Furthermore, this charge also applies if “substantial sexual contact” was initiated by the adult over the course of at least three (3) months and at least three (3) times.
California Minimum Sentencing Guidelines for Sex Crimes
If the defendant is found guilty of a sex crime, they will likely have to serve prison time. The length of this sentence depends entirely on the severity of the crime, though California generally has very stringent sentencing requirements for sex crimes. California law states that any felony requires minimum sentencing of one (1) year in a state correctional facility.
California recently passed a new statute known formally as Assembly Bill 2888 (AB 2888) that requires minimum prison terms that are mandatory in the event of a sex crime conviction. This occurred as a result of the intense political fallout of some lenient sentences that were handed down in recent sex crimes cases. With AB 2888 activated, any criminal court judge will be required to give a sentence of at least three (3) years for a rape conviction. Furthermore, both this bill and another statute referred to as Assembly Bill 701 (AB 701) have formally redefined the broad category of sex crimes under California Penal Code 263.1 as including all types of nonconsensual sexual contact.
As a result of both of these Assembly Bills, penal court judges no longer retain the ability to hand out shorter sentences or terms of probation at their discretion or upon the recommendation of the District Attorney. Furthermore, these new statutes also forbid judges from handing down suspended sentences or any term of probation for various sex crimes, including oral copulation, sodomy, rape, and/or penetration with a foreign object.
With these new minimum sentencing guidelines in place, California penal code states that a conviction of a sex crime like rape will result in a prison term of three (3), six (6), or eight (8) years. The absolute minimum for this conviction is three (3) years. If the sex crime is violent or particularly heinous, then the prison term will be longer.
Furthermore, this prison sentence can be made even longer if the sex crime victim in question is a minor. California law defines this as someone who is below the age of eighteen (18) but over the age of fourteen (14). A sex crime committed against this category of minor will result in a prison sentence of at least seven (7) and up to eleven (11) years. If the sex crime victim in question is a minor who is younger than fourteen (14), then the prison sentence will be a mandatory nine (9) to thirteen (13) years.
What are some other Consequences of Being Convicted of a Sex Crime?
California penal code also states that fines of at least two thousand dollars ($2,000) and up to twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) may be imposed on the convicted sex offender. These fines are meant to be both punitive for the sex offender in question and as financial recompense for the sex crime victim.
There are other consequences of a felony sex crime conviction as well. First of all, the convicted will be legally required to disclose their conviction on any employment applications. The defendant will also be forbidden from owning a firearm. Furthermore, any individual convicted of a felony sex crime will not be allowed to vote while they are in prison or on parole. Sex offenders on probation retain their right to vote. Any and all voting rights will be automatically restored upon completion of parole.
The convicted sex offender may also be subject to parole, supervised probation, and/or unsupervised probation. The strictest of these is undoubtedly parole. While on parole, the sex offender will have most of their rights severely curtailed and will have to check in with their parole officer on a regular basis. The judge may also impose certain behavioral restrictions, such as no alcohol, no internet access, or the activation of a permanent restraining order, that the convicted sex offender absolutely must follow. Failure to do so may result in a parole violation and being quickly remanded back to custody to serve the remainder of their sentence.
In some cases, the sex offender may be required to live under probation. This probation can be supervised or unsupervised. Under the former, the sex offender will be required to have a probation officer and may be subject to various behavioral restrictions. It is, in essence, similar to parole. The latter, on the other hand, does not require the sex offender to have a probation officer or to even regularly check in with the probation office. However, if they come in contact with law enforcement, then they may be immediately remanded back to custody.
Sex Offender Registration
If convicted of a sex crime, then the defendant will have to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code, Section 290 PC. This is also referred to as the Sex Offender Registration Act. This is generally considered to be the most devastating punishment for a defendant. Sex offender registration will haunt the defendant in question and negatively impact their life for the foreseeable future.
California Senate Bill 384 (SB 384) sets up an explicit system of three tiers. Sex offenders who are convicted of sex crimes in the lowest level will consequently fall under “tier one” and will be required to register for a minimum of ten (10) years. Offenses that fall on “tier two” will require a term of registration that is at least twenty (20) years. “Tier three” is the most severe form of a sex crime and generally includes any violent or assaultive crimes. Conviction of a sex crime in this tier requires mandatory lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Depending on the specifics of the criminal case and conviction, the defendant will likely have to register as a sex offender on the California Sex and Arson Registry (commonly referred to as CSAR). According to California Penal Code § 290.46, most convicted sex offenders will have this information pulled from CSAR to then be posted on a website known as “Megan’s List”. In other words, most registered sex offenders must be listed online to notify any neighbors, prospective employers, and the wider public about the exact nature of the sex offender’s crimes.
Sex offender registration must be renewed by the convicted sex offender every year, within five (5) business days of the sex offender’s birthday. It must also be renewed every time the sex offender moves to a new address. If the sex offender in question willfully fails to meet these requirements, then they may be charged with violating California Penal Code, Section 290(b). This charge may apply even if the sex offender failed to fulfill these requirements just one time.
Common Legal Defenses for Sex Crimes
Depending on the allegations that you may be facing, your criminal defense attorney can craft a defense that best protects you. The most common defense strategy is to argue that you were the victim of a false accusation. Sex crimes are by their very nature highly intimate and have few or even no eyewitnesses. Consequently, this is a common legal defense. Your legal team may also argue that there was no sexual contact at all. If you exchanged text messages or emails with the other party that explicitly refer to sexual contact, then this defense would be rendered inapplicable.
False accusations are common in scenarios that may be motivated by revenge, mental illness, emotional instability, and/or a simple misunderstanding. Using this strategy essentially requires your defense team to be reliant on the higher burden of proof that the district attorney must argue in order to secure the criminal conviction. The prosecution always has to prove, beyond “a reasonable doubt”, that you are guilty of the sex crime in question. Your defense team, on the other hand, has to effectively create a sense of doubt in any reasonable jury. This usually means dismantling eyewitness accounts (which are usually limited in sex crime cases) or questioning limited circumstantial evidence. Your attorney may also take on a more proactive defense by producing an alibi for you for when the alleged sex crime occurred.
Your lawyer may also argue that you were the victim of mistaken identity on the part of the accuser. This may be particularly true in cases where alcohol was imbibed to excess. Finally, your attorney may be successful in having the district attorney drop the charges due to insufficient evidence. This is only applicable if there is a dearth of physical evidence or if said physical evidence was improperly gathered by law enforcement.
What Does The Prosecution Have to Prove?
The prosecution will likely produce various pieces of evidence to prove to the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty of whatever sex crime you stand accused of. In most cases, the primary piece of evidence will be the victim’s testimony. Absent any compelling counter-arguments, like an alibi or DNA evidence that exonerates you, this testimony alone can be enough to secure a conviction.
Using this testimony, the prosecution will try to prove that the sexual contact in question actually occurred. The prosecution will also have to argue that consent was either not given, as in sex crimes like rape or sexual battery, or that the victim was incapable of giving consent due to intoxication, as in sex crimes like date rape. In sex crimes like statutory rape, then the prosecution will argue that the victim was too young to give proper consent.
Ultimately, the crux of every sex crimes case is consent. This consent must go both ways and both parties had to have been in a state of mind in which they were able to give their consent. If, for example, one party was too intoxicated to give consent, then any sexual contact would be considered date rape and fall under the general charge of rape (Penal Code 261 PC). During the criminal proceedings, you may argue that the sex was consensual or that you reasonably and honestly believed that the other party gave their consent. This may be particularly true if the consent was implied.
If the sex crime in question was of a violent, assaultive, and/or coercive nature, then the prosecution will have to prove that the sex offender used force, fraud, and/or threats to make sexual contact.
Being convicted of a sex crime you did not commit is an absolutely terrifying prospect. Not only will you face numerous consequences and minimum mandatory prison sentences, but you will be required to register as a sex offender. This alone is enough to ruin an innocent person’s life for good. If you are facing sex crimes charges and need an expert legal defense, then call San Diego Criminal Attorney at 619-880-5474. We have a qualified criminal defense attorney standing by who are ready to evaluate your case for free.