The nature and severity of different kinds of sex crimes in California varies with the individual crime, but every charge of a sex offense is a very serious one. In addition to jail time, conviction often requires registration as a sex offender for at least 10 years or up to for your entire life. And, that can have devastating effects on your life choices, family, finances, your career, and where you live.
The following summarizes seven of the most prevalent types of sex crimes in California. Some are misdemeanors, some are always felonies, and some are wobblers, which allow prosecutors to file the charge either as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Indecent exposure is the willful act of exposing one’s “private parts” in a public place, or in a place where others are present, for the purpose of sexual gratification or deliberately offending other people. California statute is broad and somewhat vague, but publicly baring one’s genitals for sexual arousal or to shock someone is illegal.
Indecent exposure is a crime requiring specific intent. Simply exposing oneself is not necessarily a criminal act. A woman who simply bares her breast in public, a man who urinates in public, or an art performance involving nudity are generally not considered illegal conduct. The offender must have intended the act to be for lewd or obscene purposes. A prosecutor must show that the offender intended to direct public attention to their genitals, or the offender wanted sexual gratification or to insult.
A first-time charge is generally a misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A second offense, or a first-time charge subsequent to another sex crime conviction, is automatically charged as a felony. Regardless of whether you are convicted of a misdemeanor or a felony, indecent exposure requires registration as a sex offender for 10 years.
Possession or Distribution of Child Pornography
California law prohibits the production, possession, transport, distribution, and sale of pornographic material that involves or depicts minors. Viewing is not specifically criminalized but possessing or controlling child pornography, such as downloading, saving or sharing it, can fall under the prohibitions of the law. Various sections of California Penal Code 311 embody most of the statutes related to child pornography.
Penalties for possession or distribution child pornography are stiff. If convicted you must register as a sex offender.
Possessing or controlling child pornography in California may be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. Penalties for a misdemeanor are up to 1 year in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. For a felony conviction the penalties range between 16 months to 6 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 – $100,000.
Sexual Battery / Sexual Assault
California Penal Code, section 243.4 defines sexual battery, also referred to as sexual assault, as the “touching of an intimate part of another person” against the person’s will for the purpose of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse. “Touching” means physical contact with another person directly or through clothing of either party. Rape is a separate crime from sexual battery under California Penal Code 261.
Sexual battery can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. It may rise to a felony charge if the victim was restrained by the offender or by an accomplice, if the offender touched the bare skin of the other person’s intimate part, or if the offender’s intimate parts touched the bare skin of the victim.
Penalties for sexual battery vary depending on the circumstances of the crime. Conviction on a misdemeanor charge normally carries a fine of up to $2,000 and up to six months in jail. The fine can be up to $3,000 if the offender is the victim’s employer. If convicted of a felony sexual battery offense the offender could receive a punishment of up to 4 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
You can be criminally charged with prostitution for soliciting, agreeing to engage, or for actually engaging in intercourse or a lewd act for money or other compensation. A lewd act is defined as touching the genitals, buttocks, or female breast of either party for the purpose of sexual gratification. Prostitution is a form of disorderly conduct under California law.
For soliciting the prosecutors must show, there was a request to engage in an act of prostitution, that the other person received the request, and that the offender intended to engage in an act of prostitution. There does not need to be an affirmative agreement to engage in order to be arrested for solicitation, or to be found guilty of a solicitation charge.
To violate prostitution laws related to agreeing to engage, prosecutors must prove the offender 1) intended to engage in the act; 2) agreed to engage in the act with someone, and 3) takes some action to further that agreement. “Furthering the agreement” might include, driving to an agreed location, renting a hotel room, or even making a verbal request to advance the act.
Engaging in prostitution is willfully engaging in a sexual act for money or other compensation. Prosecutors must show that an act of intercourse or a lewd act with another person was performed.
Prostitution charges are misdemeanors in California. A first time offense is potentially six months in jail and up to a fine of $1,000. Subsequent offenses can bring a mandatory 45-90 days in jail.
If the offender was in a vehicle and was within 1000 feet of a residence at the time the act of prostitution was committed additional penalties can include suspended drivers license for 30 days or a restricted license for up to 6 months.
Oral Copulation by Force or Fear
Oral copulation is not illegal in California, but if the act is non-consensual it is a crime. The legal definition of oral copulation by force or fear is the non-consensual ”act of copulating the mouth of one person with the sexual organ or anus of another person.”
Use of force can include threats, use of violence, intimidation, physical force, or duress. The charge can also be made if one person is unconscious, intoxicated, or legally unable to provide consent because of physical or mental capacity.
Oral copulation by force or fear is a felony in California. Penalties for conviction are a prison term of three, six, or eight years and a fine of up to $10,000; and life-long registration as a sex offender.
If the victim is between 14 years to under 18 years of age, penalties increase to 6 – 10 years in prison, and if the victim is under 14 years of age prison time increases to 8-12 years.
Failure to Register as a Sex Offender
Conviction on most sex crimes in California requires registration as a sex offender with law enforcement in the city or county where the offender lives in California. The registration must be renewed every year and each time the offender moves to a new address.
California recently created a three-tier sex offender registration system. “Tier one” offenders must register for 10 years, “tier two” requires registration for 20 years, and “tier three” offenders must register for their entire life.
If the criminal conviction for a sex crime was for a misdemeanor, then failure to register is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
If the criminal conviction for a sex crime was a felony, or if there is more than one conviction on charges of failure to register, the failure to register is a felony. It potentially means sixteen-months, or 2-3 years in state prison.
To be guilty of failure to register you must have been convicted of a sex crime that requires registration, must reside in California, knew you had a duty to register, and you willfully failed to register or update your registration as required by Megan’s Law, the California Sex Offender Registration Act.
If you are facing a sex crime charge in Orange County, call our office for a no-cost consultation at 949-387-6670. We listen and can help you.
Jeremy N. Goldman is a distinguished criminal defense attorney and trial lawyer. He has an over 22-year track record of successfully defending sex crime and violent crime cases, often getting charges dismissed or winning acquittals after jury trial. He is one of a small percentage of criminal defense attorneys who are certified as a specialist in criminal law by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization. Call 949-387-6670 today or contact us online by email here for a no-cost consultation on your criminal matter.