California law has some strict rules regarding child molestation. The crime of child molestation mainly comes with stigma due to the young age of the victim. According to California child molestation laws, it is a crime to engage or attempt to engage in sexual activities with a child below 18 years. The consequences for child molestation will vary depending on certain factors like the age of the victim and the nature of the act. You may get misdemeanor or felony charges that may lead to life imprisonment. At the San Diego Criminal Attorney, we can help you develop a defense strategy for child molestation charges.

California Statutes on Child Molestation

Several California statutes outline several ways of committing the crime of child molestation. You may face charges if you violate any of the said statutes. Some forms of committing child molestation include:

Engaging in Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor

The California PC 288 outlines the crime of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor. It is illegal to commit any lewd act on the body of a minor below 14 years with the intention of gratifying lust, arousal, and other sexual desires. An offense under PC 288 is a felony. According to this statute, you may commit a lewd act if you touch a child for sexual purposes. If you make a child touch him/herself or another person for a sexual purpose, you may violate this act. This statute applies to persons below 16 years; however, in most instances, victims are usually below the age of 14 years. Therefore, the section is mainly defined as engaging in lewd acts with a minor under 14.

Lewd acts with minor crimes revolve around touching or caressing the sexual organ of a child. It also entails an overt act of molesting a child. However, you may face charges even if the said touch was not on the sexual organ of the child. Even if you touch the child through the clothes and not on bare skin, you may still be guilty of a lewd act with a minor. If you urge the child to do the touching, you may still be accountable.

Oral Copulation with a Minor

Oral copulation with a minor as outlined under California PC 288a is also a form of child molestation. According to this statute, a minor is any person below the age of 18 years. It is surprising to learn that you can face charges for oral copulation even if the act was consensual. If you engage in oral copulation with a minor while the victim is mentally disabled or intoxicated, it could lead to harsher charges of oral copulation by force or fear.

Just like other child molestation crimes, the penalties for oral copulation with a minor will depend on both the defendant's and the victim's ages.  The crime is a wobbler if the victim is 16 years or older, and the defendant is 21 years or younger. Therefore, the crime may be a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, the consequences will include jail time not exceeding one year in county jail. If charged as a felony, the penalties include imprisonment in a state prison in California for sixteen, two, or three years. 

If the victim is below 16 years, and the defendant is above 21 years, the crime of oral copulation with a minor is a felony. If the victim is below 14 years, and the defendant is older than the victim with ten years or more, the crime is a felony with longer imprisonment. The defendant may stay in state prison for three, six, or eight years. 

Harmful Matter Sent to Seduce a Minor

According to California PC 288.2, it is a crime to send obscene or explicit content to a minor below 18 years. You may send the content with the intent of arousing the minor or yourself. You may also have the intent of seducing the minor. The California Legislature came up with this statute due to the growing concern of the use of indecent materials, including sexting, to seduce children. The law prohibits sending harmful content by any means and mainly through the internet. The internet makes it easy to access and sexually exploit children. The internet also makes it easy to access online pornography.

The prosecutor must prove various elements of this crime for you to be guilty. It must be apparent that you intentionally sent or distributed or offered to send or distribute harmful materials to minors through any means. At the time of committing the crime, you should have been aware that the recipient of the harmful material is a minor. You should have had the intent of arousing sexual desire, lust, or passions within the minor or yourself. It should be evident that you had a specific intent to seduce the minor to encourage the minor to engage in physical contact or a sexual act with you.

A violation under PC 288.2 is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor has the discretion to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history.

Contacting a Minor with Intent to Commit Felony

According to California PC 288.3, it is a crime to communicate with or contact a minor, or attempt to communicate with or contact a minor with intent to commit any offense outlined under California sex crimes and other violent felonies. At the time of committing the crime, you should have known that the person is a minor. You could be guilty of contacting a minor to commit rape, illegal acts of sodomy, oral copulation by force or fear, and lewd acts with a minor, among other crimes.

You could still be guilty even if you do not engage in anything illegal with the minor as long as you contacted the minor, and you had an ill intent to commit a felony. This crime is a form of the attempted crime. Therefore, under California law, you can be guilty of taking steps towards the commission of the crime, even if you do not execute the crime. This crime is a felony under California law, and the penalties include imprisonment in a California state prison. The imprisonment period may be three, six, or eight years. The court may impose a hefty fine of up to $10,000. If you had previously committed a felony under PC 288.3, you might get an additional five years imprisonment in state prison. 

Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes

Under California PC 288.4, it is a crime to arrange a meeting with a minor if you have a motivation for abnormal or unnatural sexual interest in minors. You are guilty if you commit the crime with intent to perform sexual acts with a minor upon meeting. Some of the sexual acts that may fall under this crime include exposing your genitals or rectal area in public. It is illegal to have a minor expose his or her genitals or rectal area in public. You should not engage in any form of the lewd act, including touching a minor's body with the aim of sexual arousal. You could still face a conviction for the crime even if you do not actually meet the minor.

The crime of arranging a meeting with a minor for sexual purposes is a misdemeanor but may be a felony under certain circumstances. A misdemeanor offense will attract penalties of up to one year jail time in county jail and a fine of up to $5,000. You may have to register a sex offender in California for ten years. 

You could get felony charges if you have a previous conviction, which requires you to register as a sex offender. The crime might also be a felony if you do not just arrange but also attend the meeting with a minor. For a felony, the penalties include imprisonment in state prison for 16 months to 4 years. The fines are higher than those of a misdemeanor offense are and maybe up to $10,000. Irrespective of whether you are guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, you have to register as a sex offense. 

Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child

If you engage in constant sexual abuse with a child below 14 years in California, you could be guilty under PC 288.5. Continuous sexual abuse involves abusing a child sexually for three or more instances over three months or more. This offense mainly involves people who reside in the same residence with the victim. Therefore, these cases involve relatives or domestic workers to abuse children sexually in a domestic setting. The prosecutor has to prove that the defendant resided in the same home with the victim and had continuous access to the child. The defendant must have engaged in three or more sexual acts with the minor. Between the first and the last sexual encounters, at least three or more months should have passed. At the time of committing sexual acts, the victim should have been below 14 years. The sexual conduct under this scenario may include sexual penetration of the minor's vagina or rectum. It may also include masturbation or oral copulation of the child or perpetrator of the crime.

The defendant may commit penetration using a sexual organ (penis) or a foreign object. In the case of oral copulation, sexual penetration will not be necessary.

Sex with a Child under 10

It is a crime to engage in sexual acts with a child below the age of 10 years. Some sexual acts may include sodomy, oral copulation, sexual penetration, or sexual intercourse. Charges under PC 288.7 may apply if any person above 18 years engages in sexual acts with a child below ten years. This crime is a felony under California law. 

The prosecutor has to prove that you engaged in sexual acts like oral copulation, sodomy, sexual penetration, or sexual intercourse with a minor. The prosecutor must also prove that at the time of committing the offense, the victim was under the age of 10 years. The defendant should have been 18 years or over.

The crime is a California felony and is punishable by imprisonment in a state prison in California. The imprisonment period will vary depending on the nature of the crime you committed. If a defendant engages in sodomy or sexual intercourse with a minor below ten years, the penalties include imprisonment for 25 years or life imprisonment. Engaging in sexual penetration or oral copulation with a minor below ten years attracts imprisonment of up to 15 years or life in prison.

You do not have to register as a sex offender for this crime. However, the crime may have negative immigration consequences because it is a crime of moral turpitude. Therefore, if you are a non-citizen convicted of this crime, you will be at risk of deportation or being inadmissible to the United States. 

Annoying or Molesting a Child under 18

According to the law, molesting and annoying means the same thing. California PC 647.6 makes it an offense to molest or annoy a person less than 18 years. Your conduct should be motivated by your sexual interest in children. The nature of your actions should be such that they are likely to irritate or disturb a child or children who observe them.  It is imperative to note that unlike other child molestation crimes, this crime does not require physical touching to occur. Your words alone are enough to attract charges as long as they constitute molesting or annoying a child. 

A crime under PC 647.6 is a misdemeanor if aggravating factors are not present. The penalties for a misdemeanor offense include jail time of up to one year in county jail and a hefty fine of up to $5,000.  If you enter an inhabited house without permission and you violate California PC 647.6, the offense is a wobbler. The prosecutor will have the liberty to charge the offense as either a felony or a misdemeanor. 

California Statutory Rape

The California PC 261.5 condemns the crime of statutory rape or unlawful sex with a minor. The charges for this crime may apply if you engage in sexual intercourse with a minor below the age of 18 years. In California, the legal age for sexual consent is 18 years. Even if the sex was consensual and the minor initiated the sex, it is still a crime under California law. The crimes of statutory rape are common in California because many teenagers are sexually active.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, a prosecutor may charge the crime of statutory rape as a felony or misdemeanor. The charges will depend on the age difference between the minor and the defendant. The penalties may be harsher if the defendant is 21 years or more, and the minor is below 16 years. In this case, the penalties may include up to 4 years of imprisonment in a state prison in California. 

For the purpose of the law, any level of penetration, no matter how small, constitutes sexual penetration even if ejaculation did not occur. All the prosecutor has to prove is that the defendant engaged in sexual intercourse with a minor. It should also be evident that a marriage relationship did not exist between the defendant and the victim. Even if the minor is married to another person or used to be married, it does not excuse this offense. 

Common Legal Defenses

If you are guilty of the crime of child molestation, the penalties can be detrimental. It is advisable to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney who can help come up with a proper defense. Some of the defenses that your attorney can adopt are:

  1. The Victim is not a Minor

You cannot be guilty of child molestation under California law if the victim does not mean the required age criteria for a minor. For child molestation charges to occur, the defendant should commit the crime against a minor. Typically, a minor is any person who has not attained the age of 18 years. However, some statutes define a minor as a person under 16, 14, or 10 years. The definition of a minor will depend on the particular law you violate. Your attorney can come up with a defense that revolves around the age of the victim. Your attorney can outline that the victim did not meet the age criteria for a particular statute.   

  1. The Contact with the Minor was not sexual

The majority of the child molestation statutes require you to have engaged in sexual contact with the minor. You can fight child molestation charges by pointing out that you did not sexually touch the minor. It is a valid defense for you to admit that you contacted a minor. However, you should be quick to add that the contact was not sexual. For example, you could have been playing a game while you accidentally bump on the sexual organ of a minor. 

  1. False Accusation

When a child is a victim of sexual molestation, the child may be frightened and confused. Therefore, the child may be confused about the identity of the perpetrator of the crime and may not be able to identify the perpetrator correctly. This scenario is common if the defendant is unknown to the child, and the touching took place in an unfamiliar place or the dark. The child may also be young and unable to identify the perpetrator correctly.

These circumstances may lead to false accusations. A child may accuse you of committing child molestation if the child has an ulterior motive. Another adult may also manipulate the child and direct the child to accuse you of child molestation. The reasoning behind the acts of the child does not matter. As long as you did not commit the crime, you can work with your attorney to prove that you are a victim of false accusations. 

  1. You Believed the Minor was Over 18 Years

California child molestation crimes require the perpetrator to have known that the victim was a minor. If you thought that the victim was above 18 years and you had no idea that you were dealing with a minor, you could not face charges under California law. However, in some instances, this defense may not apply. For instance, if you engage in oral copulation with a minor below 14 years or is more than ten years younger than you, you cannot use this defense.

This defense may apply if the victim made a statement outlining that he/she was above 18 years at the time of the sexual act. The appearance of the victim, including the type of clothes the victim wore and the makeup may determine whether this defense applies. The context in which you met the victim will also determine if this defense applies. For instance, if you met the victim in a bar, you may have thought the victim is above 18 years because many bars do not allow minors without IDs to enter.

  1. You Did not Have a Sexual Intent

This defense may apply in certain forms of child molestation like harmful touching, annoying or molesting a minor, and sending harmful content to the minor. The defendant’s intent while committing child molestation is important. The defendant should have intended to arouse him/herself or the minor.

In the case of sending harmful content to a minor, you can assert that you did not intend to seduce the minor. Therefore, even if the content you sent was harmful, you cannot face conviction unless you had a sexual intent.  According to the law, seducing entails encouraging a minor to engage in sexual activity with you. 

You can point out that you touched a minor sexually, but you had no sexual intent. The touch might have been accidental, but the minor considered it sexual or offensive.  However, for any defense to work, you need the support of an experienced attorney to guide you. 

Find an San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Child molestation is a severe crime in California, which attracts stiff penalties. The penalties include imprisonment, fines, registration as sex offenders, and negative immigration consequences. You need a competent attorney to help you fight the charges.  Contact San Diego Criminal Attorney at 619-880-5474 and speak to a qualified attorney.