The phrase “sex crime” is a broad term. It can relate to both misdemeanors and felonies that are sexual in nature. They can involve violent acts including rape or voyeuristic acts not directed at anyone in particular.
The consequences of a sex crime conviction can be severe. Often, these charges bring with them steep prison terms and high fines. Unlike other crimes, these offenses could also result in mandatory lifetime registration with the California sex offender registry.
These consequences could dramatically change the trajectory of your life. At the Hennessy Law Group, we understand what is at stake and will work tirelessly to help you beat the charges against you.
Common Sex Crimes under California Law
There are dozens of offenses within the California Penal Code that qualify as sex crimes. While some offenses are misdemeanors, many of these are felony charges. Below, we explain some of the common sex offenses and the consequences a conviction can bring.
Continuous Child Sexual Abuse
Continuous sexual abuse of a child is barred by California Penal Code 288.5. The terms of this offense are specific, as it only applies to children younger than 14 years of age.
This offense does cover a single incident of abuse. Instead, a violation is defined as three or more instances of child sexual abuse over the course of three months or longer. This offense could apply in cases where there are three instances over the course of three months or dozens in the span of a year.
Continuous child sexual abuse is a felony under the Penal Code. If convicted, you could face a state prison sentence of no more than 16 years.
California Penal Code 314 is known as the state's “indecent exposure” law. Indecent exposure occurs when a person exposes their genitals to another person in public. This action must be made to:
- Sexually gratify the defendant, or
- Offend the victim.
While not the most severe offense compared to other crimes on this list, an indecent exposure conviction could have a dramatic impact on a defendant's life. In addition to the year in prison that comes with a conviction, it could also do significant harm to their personal reputation. A skilled criminal defense attorney could help a person avoid these convictions and give them an opportunity to put their life back together.
Failure to Register as a Sex Offender
One of the most severe consequences of a sex offense conviction is mandatory registration with the California Sex Offender's Registry. If a convicted sex offender fails to comply with the requirements of the registry, it could result in an additional charge.
Failure to register is governed by California Penal Code 290. The statute requires every person that is active on the sex offender registry to register with the police chief in the town they are residing in. This statute applies not only to permanent residents but also to anyone working or going to school temporarily within the state.
This offense can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the nature of the original sex crime. Misdemeanor failure to register can lead at most one year in jail. Felony failure to register is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Lewd conduct is banned under California Penal Code 647a. This statute holds:
every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor: (a) An individual who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view
Lewd conduct involves a defendant touching their genitals or the genitals of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification or harassment. This offense differs from indecent exposure in that it involves sexual contact instead of simply exposing genitals.
Lewd conduct is a misdemeanor. It carries a penalty of up to six months in county jail, a fine of $1,000, or a combination of the two. While these penalties are steep, a conviction will not require registration on the sex offender registry.
Possession of Child Pornography
Any possession of pornographic images or videos involving children is outlawed by California Penal Code 311. There are two ways to violate this statute. The first involves any effort to send, transport, print, exchange, duplicate, possess, or advertise child pornography. The second option involves hiring or persuading a minor to make pornographic images.
The possession of this material must be “knowingly” for a crime to occur. For example, a person that buys a used suitcase and has no idea that it contains explicit images of a child has not knowingly possessed child pornography.
Child pornography charges are typically “wobblers” in California. A wobbler is an offense that gives the prosecutor the leeway to charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, child pornography can carry up to a year in jail. As a felony, it can lead to at most three years in prison. In either case, the defendant must register as a sex offender.
In California, prostitution is outlawed by California Penal Code 647b. Prostitution involves accepting money or another thing of value in exchange for a sexual act. To violate this statute, the act does not need to have occurred. Simply agreeing to sex in exchange for money can also be considered a violation if the defendant did something to further the commission of the act. This could include anything from accepting the money to taking off clothes.
For first-time offenders, prostitution carries up to six months in county jail and a fine of no more than $1,000. However, prostitution is a “priorable” offense. This means prior convictions could enhance these penalties. A second offense requires a minimum of 45 days in jail, while a third or subsequent offense requires at least 90 days in county jail.
DUI Felony Crimes
Rape is the act of engaging in sexual intercourse with another person by using fraud, force, or threats. Rape is governed by California Penal Code 261. This offense could involve the use of violent force against a stranger or sexual contact with a person that is physically unable to give consent.
The rape statute also covers incidents of date rape. Date rape – also known as acquaintance rape – involves non-consensual sexual contact between people that were dating or voluntarily spending time with one another.
Rape is always a felony under California law. The offense carries a penalty of up to eight years in state prison. This sentence could be enhanced by three to five years if the victim suffered great bodily harm during the commission of the crime. The sentence could also go up if the victim was a minor. These offenses generally lead to a lifetime sex offender registry requirement.
California Penal Code 261.5 distinguishes statutory rape from other rape charges. Statutory rape is also known as unlawful sex with a minor. It is a violation of this statute to have sexual contact with anyone under the age of 18. Unlike many states, California does not make an exception for two people that were close in age at the time.
This offense occurs even if the victim was a willing participant. Under the law, a person under the age of majority lacks the capacity to consent to sex. Statutory rape is a “wobbler” in California, and prosecutors typically consider the age difference between the two parties. A misdemeanor charge can lead to a year in county jail, while the felony version could result in four years in state prison.
Like with any criminal offense, there are many potential defenses in a sex crime case. Determining the right defense for your situation can be a challenge, and is best left to an experienced defense attorney. While some defenses can be viable in some cases, they might not be as viable in another. For example, consent is arguably the strongest defense in a rape case. When it comes to crimes like indecent exposure that occur in public, the consent of a single party is unlikely to make a major defense to a jury. Some of the most popular defenses in sex crimes cases include:
- Mistake of fact
- Lack of sexual contact
- Unknowing possession of illicit material
- False accusations
- Mistaken identity
- Insufficient evidence
While the fact that a defendant was heavily intoxicated might serve as a mitigating circumstance, it is never a defense to a California sex crime.
Why Hennessy Law Group
If you are facing allegations of a sex crime in Kern County, it is vital that you understand what is at stake. The risk of jail time is substantial, as are the complications that a lifetime on the sex offender registry could bring.
The Hennessy Law Group understands what is at stake in your case. We are ready to review your situation carefully and help you build the strongest defense possible. If you have questions about how a sex offense charge could impact your life, schedule a free consultation with Hennessy Law Group right away.