Child Sexual Abuse and Molestation Crimes in California
Child sexual abuse and molestation crimes are some of the most serious charges that a person can face in California. The potential seriousness of the crime depends on the circumstances involved and the age of the child.
Types of Sexual Abuse Crimes
There are a number of different crimes involving sexual abuse or molestation of children. Some of these crimes include:
Lewd or Lascivious Acts with a Minor
Lewd or Lascivious Acts with a Minor may be charged when the conduct involves inappropriate touching to or from a minor.1 This crime is divided into three different classifications. Lewd or Lascivious Acts with a Child Under the Age of 14 involves the touching of a child’s body or causing the child under age 14 to touch his or her own body for the purpose of sexual pleasure.2 This crime carries a maximum penalty of eight years in jail and a $10,000 fine.3 The prosecution must prove the following elements to convict the defendant:
- Defendant willfully touched any bare skin or clothed skin of the child or the defendant willfully caused a child to touch the defendant’s body or the victim’s body4
- The touching was conducted with the intent to arouse, appeal or gratify lust
- The child was under 14
Lewd or Lascivious Acts with a Minor by Force or Fear involves the use of force, fear or a threat.5 The maximum penalty for this offense is 10 years in state prison and a fine of $10,000.6 Lewd or Lascivious Acts with a Child of Age 14 or 15 involves physical contact for a sexual purpose with a 14- or 15-year old.7 This offense can result in one year in county jail unless the defendant is at least ten years older than the victim in which case he or she can receive three years in state prison.8
Arranging a Meeting with a Child for Lewd Purposes
In addition to the charges for the actual lewd conduct, a defendant may face additional charges. For example, he or she may face charges for Arranging a Meeting with a Child for Lewd Purposes.9 This crime can be charged if the victim is a minor or the defendant believed the victim is a minor, which may apply in cases that involve sting operations. This offense can be charged as a felony that is punishable by up to three years in a California state prison or as a misdemeanor with a maximum county jail sentence of one year.
Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
If the sexual abuse is ongoing, the defendant may be charged with Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child.10 The penalty for this offense ranges between 6 and 16 years imprisonment.
Oral Copulation with a Minor
California has a separate offense regarding oral copulation. The potential penalty for this crime is treated the same as Lewd or Lascivious Conduct.11 If the victim is under 18 but older than 14, the offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony with a maximum three-year sentence.
Sexual battery does not specifically apply to children like the other crimes specified here. However, this is the crime that is often charged when the child is between 14 and 17 or when the defendant is less than ten years older than the victim.12
Annoying or Molesting a Minor
Another crime that involves molestation is that of Annoying or Molesting a Child. In this context, “annoying” is synonymous with “molesting.”13 This statute penalizes conduct that is motivated by sexual interest in a child that is likely to disturb or irritate the child. This offense does not require showing that the defendant had any physical contact with the victim and mere words to the child may be enough to support a conviction. The potential penalty for this crime depends on whether the defendant is charged with a felony offense or a misdemeanor offense. A felony offense carries a maximum sentence of three years in state prison while a misdemeanor offense can result in one year in county jail.
Sex with a Child Under Age of 10
Another serious offense is Sex with a Child Under Age of 10.14 This charge criminalizes engaging in sexual activity with a child under the requisite age. The potential penalty for this offense is 25 years to life in a state prison.
Child pornography charges may be charged if a person possesses or distributes pornographic images of children.15 If a defendant shows or captures images of the child victim while engaging in lewd conduct, he or she may be charged with both crimes.
Sending Harmful Matter to Seduce Minor
If a defendant sends pornographic material to a minor with the intent to arouse himself, herself or the minor, this crime may be charged.16 For example, this crime may be charged when the defendant sends a nude picture of himself or herself to the victim. This crime may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense.
Prosecutors often treat sex crimes very seriously and pursue the harshest sentencing possible. A conviction can mean several years behind bars. Additionally, the defendant is usually required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his or her life17. He or she may also be sentenced to probation or parole.
In addition to the possible criminal penalties, a person who is convicted of a molestation crime may also face negative social and professional consequences. There is a certain stigma involved with these types of cases due to the vulnerability of the victim. A person who is convicted of this type of crime may suffer permanent affects to their personal and professional lives. Even mere accusations of this crime without a conviction can permanently alter the defendant’s life and affect family and social relationships.
Individuals who are facing charges related to child sexual abuse or molestation should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately in order to protect their rights and avoid some of the negative consequences associated with these crimes. A skilled attorney can discuss the particular circumstances of your case to determine the possible legal defenses. Some of the potential defenses may include:
In some situations, a child may say that someone molested them when the defendant has not. Someone else may have molested the child. In other circumstances, a parent may get the child to blame the other parent such as in a child custody situation. In other situations, the child may have flawed memory or may only assert allegations after seeking therapy but may be relying more on the therapist’s input than his or her own memory.
Due Process Violations
In some situations, the evidence that may be asserted against the defendant may not be reliable to such an extent that his or her due process rights are violated. For example, the victim’s memory may not be reliable, evidence may have deteriorated over time, exculpatory witnesses may have passed away or other factors may exist that weigh against prosecuting the defendant.
In other cases, the prosecution may not be able to establish one of the elements to the offense, such as that the child was of the requisite age, force was used or that touching was not for a sexual purpose.
1 California Penal Code Section 288 – Defines the offense as touching any bare or covered skin of a minor or forcing a minor to touch himself or herself or the defendant for the purpose of sexual arousal or self-gratification.
2 See California Penal Code Section 288(a) – Defines the offense of child molestation as when “any person who willfully and lewdly commits any lewd or lascivious act, upon the body, or any part or member thereof, of a child who is under the age of 14 years, with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the child is guilty.”
3 See above.
4 Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instruction (CALCRIM) 1110.
5 See California Penal Code Section 288(b).
6 See above.
7 See California Penal Code Section 288(c).
8 See above.
9 See California Penal Code Section 288.4.
10 See California Penal Code Section 288.5 – Defining the offense as involving three or more acts of lewd or lascivious conduct within a three-month period with a child under the age of 14.
11 See California Penal Code Section 288a – Providing for the following penalties: 8 years in prison for adults at least ten years older than the victim who is under 14 years old; 12 years if force or threats are used.
12 See California Penal Code Section 243.4 – The offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. A conviction requires a lifetime registration as a sex offender.
13 California Penal Code Section 647.6 – It is a crime to molest a child under the age of 18.
14 See California Penal Code Section 288.7(a).
15 See California Penal Code Section 311.
16 See California Penal Code Section 288.2.
17 See California Penal Code Section 290 – Listing the lifetime duty to register as a sex offender when the defendant is convicted of a charge under PC 288. Failing to register as a sex offender can result in additional misdemeanor penalties.