Sexual offenses are some of the most heavily penalized crimes in California. The phrase “sex crimes” covers a myriad of offenses, which can involve anything as simple as touching to forceful penetration. Regardless of the sexual conduct, a sex crime conviction can have serious implications on the accused. Unlike other convictions, a sex crime conviction comes with a stigma and consequences you will have to live with, possibly for the rest of your life.
The most common sex charges individuals may face include:
- Lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor
- Statutory rape
- Sexual battery
- Indecent exposure
- Child pornography
- Failing to register as a sex offender
The penalties of a sex offense mainly depend on the alleged victim’s age, whether they were young, elderly, dependent, or vulnerable. Still, other factors may also affect the outcome of the case.
If convicted of any sex crime, a defendant may face a jail term of up to eight years in prison (or more than 25 years under California’s “Three Strikes” law) and registration in the sex offenders registry.
Sexual assault is an act of touching another’s intimate parts in a sexual way without their consent. Intimate parts as defined in Penal Code 243.4 include the sexual organs, anus, groin, buttocks, and female breasts.
Sexual battery happens when an individual forces another to engage in sexual contact or intercourse against their will. To prove a crime of sexual battery, prosecutors must prove the following:
- The defendant or accomplice touched the victim or made the victim touch themselves
- The defendant or accomplice restrained the victim
- The touching was against the victim’s will
- The touching was for the purpose of the offender’s sexual gratification, sexual arousal, or sexual abuse
- Misdemeanor – This is punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum of $2,000 in fines
- Felony – A felony conviction could lead to two, three, or four years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Lewd Acts in Public
California Penal Code 647(a) prohibits lewd conduct in public that may involve touching private parts for the purpose of sexual gratification or to offend another. Lewd conduct in public is a misdemeanor offense that doesn’t require lifelong registration as a sex offender.
California rape laws are prescribed in Section 261(a)(2) of the Penal Code. Rape is the illegal act of having sexual intercourse with someone (who is not their spouse) through force, fear, or threats against their will. Rape is a felony offense and punishable under California’s “Three Strikes” system.
Statutory rape is the act of having sexual intercourse with a minor under Penal Code 261.5. Statutory rape is different from Section 261(a)(2) because it does not require the element of consent to be present. According to California laws, an adult can give consent to have sex, but a minor cannot, even if the minor initiates the sexual contact. The penalties for statutory rape depend on the age difference between the minor and the offender. If the accused and victim have no more than three years apart, the offense is a misdemeanor. Statutory rape is more serious if the minor is less than 16 years.
Prostitution and Solicitation
Penal Code 647(b) prohibits anyone from engaging in lewd acts in exchange for money or any other form of payment. This law also makes it a crime to solicit prostitution or pander (“pimping”) prostitutes for money.
Forcible Oral Copulation
Oral copulation or oral sex is sexual conduct that involves the mouth of one person with the sexual organ or anus of another. California Penal Code 288(a) makes oral copulation in three scenarios:
- Oral sex with a minor
- Forcible oral copulation
- Acting as an accomplice to another to force a victim into oral copulation
Forcible oral copulation occurs when the offender coerces an individual into oral sex using force, duress, or threats. Offenders also violate Section 288(a)(c) if they knowingly copulate with an unconscious or unaware victim. Forcible oral sex is a felony punishable by up to 12 years in prison, depending on the age of the victim.
According to Penal Code 314, indecent exposure happens when one exposes their genitals to anyone who might be offended. The offense doesn’t have to take place in a public place but can happen in any environment. A first conviction is typically a misdemeanor, but any subsequent offenses could be treated as a felony. A felony conviction could lead to incarceration and mandatory registration as a Tier I sex offender for at least 10 years.
California makes it mandatory for people convicted of certain sex crimes to register as sex offenders every year (within five working days of their birthday) and within five days of changing their address. Penal Code 290, therefore, makes it illegal for a sex offender to fail to register or fail to renew their registration under the above conditions. To prove a violation under Penal Code 290, the prosecutors must be able to establish the following:
- The defendant was convicted of a California sex crime listed in Section 290
- The defendant is a California resident
- The defendant was aware of his duty to register
- The defendant willfully failed to register or renew his/her registration
Failing to register can be convicted as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the underlying offense( whether it was a misdemeanor or felony). A felony conviction of Penal Code 290 is punishable by up to three years in state prison.
Three-Tiered System for Sex Offender Registration Under new California law, as of 2021, the California Department of Justice will begin to determine the tier status of defendants required to register as a sex offender pursuant to Penal Code § 290. Registrants who satisfy their mandatory minimum requirements can petition their local county court to have their names removed from the sex offender registry. The new law is meant to reserve California’s harshest punishment for serious, violent sex offenders, reduce costs for monitoring offenders who are at low risk of future crimes, and provide relief for those who were convicted of lesser, nonviolent crimes. The new three-tier system is as follows: Tier 1. A Tier 1 offender is subject to registration for ten years after being released from prison or completing probation. Tier 1 includes offenders convicted of sex offenses that were either a misdemeanor or a felony but which were not considered serious or violent. Tier 2. Tier 2 offenders are subject to registration for a minimum of 20 years. Tier 2 crimes include mid-level felonies not included in Tiers 1 or 3, including but not limited to: sex acts with people unable to consent; incest; oral copulation; penetration with a foreign object; and lewd and lascivious acts with a minor under age 14. Tier 3. Tier 3 requires sex offender registration for life. Tier 3 offenders are not eligible to have their names removed at any time. Tier 3 is reserved for the most serious and violent offenses, including but not limited to: child pornography, murder or kidnapping in connection with a felony sex offense, pimping or pandering of a minor, and many forms of rape.
Sex Crimes Involving Minors
Lewd Act with A Child
This charge mostly addresses sexual conduct with a child under 14 years. The term lewd is broad, but when it applies to Penal Code 288(a), it doesn’t have to include any contact with a sexual organ. The crime of lewd acts with a child should also have the intent to arouse, appeal to, or gratify the passions of the offender or the child.
California Penal Code 311.1(a) outlaws possession of child pornography. Anyone who shares, sells, or makes a sexual image or video of a minor violates Penal Code 311.1(a). Possession of child pornography is a wobbler offense that can be tried as a misdemeanor or felony.
Child molestation involves a number of unlawful sexual offenses where the victim is a child under 14 years old. Common child molestation charges under California law include:
- Penal Code 288 – Lewd act with a child
- Penal Code 287 – Oral copulation with a minor
- Penal Code 288.2 – Sending harmful or obscene material to a minor
- Penal Code 288.3 – Contacting a minor with the intent to commit a felony
- Penal Code 288.4 – Arranging to meet with a minor with the intent to engage in sexual conduct
- Penal Code 288.5 – Continous sexual abuse of a minor
- Penal Code 647.6 – Annoying a minor because of sexual interest in the child
- Penal Code 261.5 – Statutory rape
- The alleged victim does not meet the age requirement
- False accusation
- Contact was non-sexual