How Is "Child Molestation" Defined Under California Law?
The term "child molestation" refers, under California law, not to one single crime but to a group of closely related crimes. All of them are extremely serious offenses that carry particularly severe penalties.
But in general, child molestation is any unwanted, unlawful sexual touching of a minor done for the purpose of sexual arousal or abuse. The sexual arousal in question can be that of the perpetrator, the victim, or an onlooker or another perpetrator.
As we get into the various specific types of California child molestation just below, we will see the specific definitions of each.
Lewd or Lascivious Acts With a Child
There are three parts of the California Penal Code specifically addressing lascivious acts with a minor: PC 288a, PC 288b, and PC 288c.
California law defines a "lewd or lascivious act" as any physical touching of the body "in a sexual way." It does not have to be touching of an actual sex organ or even directly on the skin (it can be through the clothes, for example.) And "child" or "minor" means anyone under the age of 18. The touching must have been willful (not an accident) and unlawful.
- PC 288b, Lewd or Lascivious Acts With a Minor by Force or Fear
If physical force or threats are used to force oneself sexually on a person under 18 years old, it is a felony violation under PC 288b. This crime is punishable by up to 10 years in state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- PC 288c, Lewd or Lascivious Acts With a Child 14 or 15 Years Old
When a lewd/lascivious act is committed against a child either 14 or 15 years old, provided the perpetrator is 10 years or more older than the victim, it violates PC 288c.
The age factor makes this more serious than other similar offenses, but the force/fear factor of PC 288b makes that crime more serious than this one. But the exact circumstances of each case will be determinative.
PC 288c can be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail; or a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
- PC 288a, Lewd or Lascivious Acts With a Child Less Than 14 Years Old
When a lewd/lascivious act is committed against a child less than 14 years old, it violates PC 288a. The crime being committed against one so young increases the sentence significantly.
This is a felony crime, punishable by up to 8 years in state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
Annoying/Molesting a Child
PC 647.6 defines "annoying" or "molesting" a child as an act motivated by any sex-related desire toward that child. It is an action that is offensive and disturbing to those in a "normal" state of mind; it is an act stemming from "unnatural" and "abnormal" desires.
PC 647.6 can be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and a $5,000 fine; or a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in state prison. But a repeat offense will get you 12 months in prison (instead of jail), even for a misdemeanor offense. And felony with a prior felony sex crime against a minor on your record can get you up to 6 years in prison instead of 3.
Oral Copulation With a Minor
PC 288a not only covers lewd/lascivious acts with a child under 14, it also covers oral copulation with a minor by force/fear. This is simply the oral-sex version of child molestation. Any contact whatsoever between mouth and child sex organ/anus counts as a violation.
If you were 21 or older and the victim 16 or younger, it is a felony and can get you 3 years of prison time.
If you were 10 years of more older than the victim, then under PC 288a, it is a felony, with a maximum sentence of 8 years in prison.
If the child victim was less then 14 years old, and you were less than ten years older than the child, you can be charged with PC 288, Lewd/Lascivious Acts With a Child Under 14, punishable by up to 8 years in prison.
If force or fear was used to accomplish the oral sex with the child victim, then it is a felony. And if the victim was between 14 and 17 years old, you can get up to 10 years in state prison. If the victim was, in this case, under 14 years old, you can receive up to 12 years of prison time.
Soliciting a Minor for Lewd Purposes
PC 288.4 prohibits any attempt to arrange a meeting with a child for a "sexual purpose." The crime involves a "sexual interest" of the perpetrator in the child, and the solicitation or arrangement of a meeting to commit lewd/lascivious acts on the child.
To be convicted, it must be shown that the defendant had an abnormal sexual desire for the child victim, intended to commit lewd/lascivious acts with him or her, and that the defendant tried to set up a meeting with the child, believing it to be a person under the age of 18.
This crime can be a misdemeanor offense (and typically is for someone without a previous criminal record). As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. As a felony, it is punishable by from 16 months to 3 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Sex With a Child Less Than 10 Years Old
PC 288.7a addresses lewd/lascivious acts with a child under the age of ten. PC 288.7a deals with sexual intercourse or sodomous acts. It is a felony, punishable by 25 years to life in prison.
PC 288.7b deals with oral copulation with a child under ten, or the sexual penetration of a child under ten with a "foreign object." This is a felony, punishable by 15 years to life in prison.
Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
PC 288.5 deals with "continuous" sexual abuse of children, with repeated acts that are related enough to be charged together, rather than with a single act (all the above-listed crimes dealt with a single act and could all be charged under PC 288.5 if they were done repeatedly.)
There are some very specific criteria, however, in how "continuous" is defined. First, you had to have "recurring access" to the child, such as someone who lived with the child in the same house/apartment or who visited repeatedly (perhaps, for example, a baby sitter or a relative.)
Second, there must be 3 or more sexual acts, all considered "substantial." This can be any form of lewd/lascivious acts, or oral sex, or masturbation.
Third, these three or more acts must have occurred across a time-period of 3 months or more.
Fourth, the child victim of a PC 288.5 must have been less than 14 years old.
PC 288.5 is a felony crime, punishable by from 6 to 16 years in prison. This is a "violent" or "serious" felony as defined in the California Penal Code, and as such, it is a "strike" under our state's Three Strikes legislation. That means that a second strike would double any incarceration period, and a third strike could get you 25 years to life imprisonment.
Sex Offender Registration
One of the most difficult sentencing elements to bear of any of the above child molestation charges, if convicted, is the requirement to register as a sex offender and stay registered for the rest of your life, under PC 290.
Any felony-level child molestation charge will require lifetime sex offender registration, with renewed registration annually. A misdemeanor child molestation conviction would not necessarily require sex offender registration. And that is one of the key reasons why a good defense attorney who can get your charge reduced to a misdemeanor, when a total victory is unrealistic, is an invaluable asset you should not go to trial without.
Note that sex offender status will make it difficult to find a good, steady job, find a place to lease an apartment, or get accepted for college enrollment. And if one fails to keep up their registration, they can be charged with an additional felony crime and end up back in prison.
Common Defense Strategies Against a Child Molestation Charge
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we understand the gravity of a child molestation charge. And we know how to build a maximally effective defense that is "customized" to the exact facts and circumstances of each case.
We can often expose violations of a defendant's rights or illegal methods of gathering evidence to get a case dropped so that it never goes to court. And we know how to argue your case persuasively before the judge and jury. We also know how to obtain the best possible plea deal when that is the best course to take.
Here are three of our most commonly used defenses in child molestation cases:
- Accidental touching: You did not intend to touch the child at all. If the touching was an accident, then no matter where it occurred, it was not molestation.
- Lack of intent: You may have touched the child without a sexual purpose, without any intention toward sexual arousal or abuse.
- False accusation: It is not uncommon for people to be falsely accused of child molestation and other sex crimes. But a good defense lawyer will be able to expose fabricated testimonies by cross-examination.
Contact Us Today For Help
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we do not shy away from sex crime or child molestation defense cases. We believe everyone is entitled to a fair trial and is innocent until proven guilty.
We fight hard to ensure the prosecution cannot "get away with" a conviction that doesn't truly meet the bar of "proven beyond all reasonable doubt." If your rights were violated by police or evidence was illegally collected, we will fight pre-trial for a dismissal. And we know how to present your case effectively in court and when/how to negotiate for a favorable plea deal.
For a free, no-obligation consultation on your case, contact us anytime 24/7/365 at (562) 308-7807. Or, consult with us in-person at our local Long Beach office.