Sex crimes are some of the offenses that carry the harshest penalties in California. On top of the usual criminal penalties of fines and jail/prison sentences, you will likely face even more harsh consequences like registration as a sex offender if you are found guilty. Such consequences will make it hard to secure a job, housing, or even college admission. The consequences might even be harsher if the case is prosecuted as a federal offense.

We at Sex Crimes Attorney believe that every person has a right to a fair trial, and every defendant should access expert criminal defense services. This is because prosecutors treat every sex crime allegation seriously, and you might find yourself sentenced or imprisoned wrongfully. Our attorneys specialize in sex crimes offenses only, so you can be sure to get expert representation if you are facing these charges.

If you are facing any California sex crime charge, do not hesitate to contact us at Sex Crimes Attorney. These charges can be complex and require enough time to prepare a solid defense strategy, so contacting a sex crimes attorney as soon as possible is crucial.

What Constitutes a Sex Crime

You can face a sex crime charge under federal or state statutes. This will typically depend on the seriousness and circumstances of your case. Nevertheless, each sex crime has a specific definition under the law, but they can be categorized into three categories. These categories represent the common elements of the crime for each category:

  1. Crimes Involving Children

Crimes involving minors are the most serious category of sex crimes. Under criminal law, a minor is a person below 18 years. Since the legal age of consent is 18 years, any person who engages in sexual activities with a person below 18 is liable to criminal charges, regardless of whether the minor consented or not.

Most of these crimes are tier 3 sex offenses, which means the offender is likely to be required to register as a sex offender for life. Here are examples of these crimes:

  • Statutory rape (Penal Code 261.5).
  • Lewd Acts With A Child/ Child Molestation (Penal Code 288).
  • Child Pornography (Penal Code 311).
  1. Crimes Involving Lack of Consent and Violence

Crimes involving minors, such as statutory rape, are examples of crimes that lack consent because minors cannot legally consent to sexual acts. Rape (under Penal Code 261), is one of the common examples of a sex crime that involves violence or threats, and the victim does not consent to the act. Other examples area:

  • Oral copulation by force (Penal Code 288 a).
  • Sexual Battery and Sexual Assault (Penal Code 243.4).
  1. Public Sex Crimes

These are inappropriate sex acts committed in a public space. Following are examples:

  • Prostitution and Solicitation (Penal Code 647 b).
  • Indecent Exposure (Penal Code 314).
  • Lewd Conduct in Public (Penal Code 647 a).

Other crimes might result from an error or a simple misunderstanding, such as failure to register as a sex offender or charges of date rape.

Types of Sex Crimes and Potential Punishments

California sex crimes carry different punishments depending on the degree of the offense, criminal history, among other factors. Here are the types of sex crimes.

Indecent Exposure

The offense of indecent exposure occurs when a person willfully exposes their genitals in a public place or in the presence of another person who may be offended or annoyed by the act. The exposure does not have to be for a sexual purpose, and the defendant does not have to touch themselves to be charged with indecent exposure.

Exposing your private parts means revealing your bare genitals. Thus, you cannot face indecent exposure charges under Penal Code 314 if you reveal a bare female breast (this doesn’t matter whether the woman was breastfeeding or revealed the breast for sexual gratification) or expose your underwear (it doesn’t matter how revealing the underwear was).

Indecent exposure is typically charged as a simple misdemeanor, and a conviction can result in penalties that include:

  • A maximum jail sentence of 6 months.
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.
  • The requirement to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years.

Aggravated indecent exposure is an aggravated form that is usually prosecuted as a wobbler. This offense occurs when a person exposes their genitals in an inhabited home, building, or trailer. The person must have entered the place without permission.

As a misdemeanor, aggravated indecent exposure carries:

  • A maximum jail sentence of one year.
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.
  • Sex offender registration of a minimum of 10 years.

If charged as a felony, the expected punishments are:

  • 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years imprisonment.
  • Up to $10,000 fines.
  • The requirement to register with the California sex offender registry for a minimum of 10 years.

For repeat offenders or those with a prior conviction of charges of lewd acts with a minor, the offense will likely be automatically prosecuted as a felony, with the same consequences of felony aggravated indecent exposure.

Lewd Conduct in Public

Penal Code 647 (a) defines lewd conduct in public as a sexual offense that involves engaging in (or soliciting someone to engage in) dissolute or lewd conduct in a public space or a place that is exposed to public view. The defendant knew or must have known that a third party was present and they would have been offended by the conduct. Also, the act must have been done willfully.

Under this law, private parts include the female breast, buttocks, or genitals. Touching these parts would lead to lewd or dissolute conduct if the defendant intended to annoy another person or sexually gratify themselves.

Charges of lewd conduct in public carry a maximum of $1,000 in fines and a jail sentence of 6 months. In most cases, the judge will grant you a misdemeanor probation, where you might serve little or no jail sentence. Typically, these charges don’t require the offender to register as a sex offender; but most prosecutors tend to prosecute lewd conduct in public alongside indecent exposure, which can lead to the requirement to register as a sex offender since an indecent exposure conviction requires a minimum of 10 years sex offender status.

Most PEN 647 (a) charges arise from sting operations. These are undercover operations where a cop lures a person to behave in a way that could be interpreted to be lewd or dissolute. For instance, a plain cloth cop might approach a person in a dark alley and start acting flirtatiously, then the person starts acting lewdly (like masturbating or agreeing to a sexual act), then the cop arrests him. In this case, the person had no reason to believe there was a third party and they would be offended by the act, so they shouldn’t face criminal charges.

Prostitution and Solicitation

Under Penal Code 647 (b), prostitution is the act of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for money or other compensation. This includes any act of sexual intercourse or other sexual conduct. It is illegal for anyone to offer, agree to, or engage in prostitution.

On the other hand, solicitation is the act of asking or offering to engage in prostitution. This includes soliciting someone to engage in sexual activity in exchange for money or other compensation.

As a first-time offender, you will likely face:

  • A maximum of one year in county jail.
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.

A second-time and third-time offenders are likely to face a mandatory minimum of 45 days and 90 days in county jail respectively.

Common legal defenses against charges of prostitution and solicitation in California include lack of evidence, entrapment by law enforcement officers, and mistaken identity.

Loitering with the Intent to Commit Prostitution

California Senate Bill 357 repealed the offense of loitering to commit prostitution under Penal Code 653.22. However, Gov. Gavin Newsom mentioned that the new law does not legalize prostitution.

There have been mixed reactions to the repealing of loitering to commit prostitution. Advocates for the legalization of prostitution argue that it would increase safety for sex workers by allowing them to work in regulated environments and receive protections under labor laws. However, opponents of the legalization of prostitution argue that it would lead to an increase in human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

Some cities in California have attempted to create their own systems to regulate prostitution. For example, in 2020, the city of Oakland passed a resolution that called for the creation of a task force to explore the feasibility of decriminalizing prostitution and establishing a regulatory framework.

Sexual Assault and Sexual Battery

Sexual assault and sexual battery are distinct but related offenses. Sexual assault, as defined in Penal Code section 243.4, involves the nonconsensual touching of another person's intimate body parts for sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse. This can include touching the genitals, breasts, buttocks, or any other intimate area of the body.

Sexual battery involves the intentional and non-consensual touching of another person's intimate body parts, even if the touching is not done for sexual arousal or gratification. Like sexual assault, sexual battery can include touching the genitals, breasts, buttocks, or any other intimate area of the body. Both offenses are committed when the touching is done against the victim's will or without their consent, or when the victim is unable to resist due to being incapacitated or under duress.

One key difference between sexual assault and the sexual battery is that sexual assault requires that the touching be done for sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse, while sexual battery does not have this requirement. Another difference is that sexual assault is typically charged as a felony, while the sexual battery can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances of the offense.

As a misdemeanor, the charges carry:

  • A maximum of 6 months in jail.
  • Up to $2,000 in fines or $3,000 in fines if the alleged victim was your employee.
  • Informal probation.

If the charge is a wobbler (if there are aggravating circumstances), the above punishments will apply but the minimum jail sentence will be one year if charged as a misdemeanor. If charged as a felony, these punishments will apply:

  • 2, 3, or 4 years imprisonment. This might increase to 3 to 5 years if the victim sustained significant bodily injury.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.
  • Formal probation.
  • Tier 3 sex offender registration. This means you will have sex offender status for life.

Sexual assault or battery victims can also bring civil lawsuits against defendants. As a result, on top of criminal punishments, a defendant can be forced to pay for civil damages like pain and suffering, medical bills, and lost earnings.


In 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law that prohibits "stealthing" in California. The bill, known as Assembly Bill 453, amends the state's civil and criminal codes to define stealthing as a form of sexual battery.

Stealthing is a term used to describe the act of removing a condom during sexual intercourse without the partner's knowledge or consent. This act exposes the partner to potential sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unwanted pregnancy, and violates the partner's trust and autonomy.

The new law allows victims of stealthing to seek civil damages, including compensatory damages, attorney's fees, and punitive damages. It also allows prosecutors to bring criminal charges against individuals who engage in stealthing, which can result in imprisonment, fines, and mandatory sex offender registration.

Oral Copulation by Force of Fear

Under Penal Code 288(c)(2), Oral copulation by force or fear occurs when an individual forces another person to engage in oral sex against their will, or when the individual uses fear or threats to compel the other person to engage in oral sex. Oral copulation refers to the act of a person's mouth or tongue coming into contact with another person's genitals or anus.

The use of force, fear, or threats can include physical force, duress, coercion, or intimidation. For example, it can involve a perpetrator using physical force to compel the victim to engage in oral sex, or it can involve a perpetrator threatening to harm the victim or their loved ones if they do not comply with their demands.

Oral copulation by force is always charged as a felony, with these potential punishments:

  • A prison sentence of 3, 6, or 8 years. The sentence will be 6, 8, or 10 years if the victim is a minor and over 14 and 8, 10, or 12 years if the victim is under 14 years.
  • A fine of up to $10,000.
  • A formal probation.
  • The obligation to register as a sex offender under Penal Code 290.

Child Pornography

Under federal law, child pornography is defined as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under the age of 18). This includes photographs, videos, digital or computer-generated images, and other similar depictions.

Under federal law (18 U.S.C. § 2251), it is illegal to produce, distribute, receive, or possess with intent to distribute any sexually explicit images of minors. This includes images that are created, modified, or adapted to appear as if they depict minors engaging in sexual conduct.

In California, the penal code 311 defines child pornography as "any matter or material that depicts sexual conduct by a person under 18 years of age." The state has strict laws against child pornography and those found guilty of violating these laws can face serious consequences, including imprisonment and hefty fines. Here are potential punishments:

  • Up to one year in county jail and $1,000 to $2,000 in fines if charged as a misdemeanor.
  • Up to three years in state prison.
  • The requirement to register as a sex offender.

Child Molestation

Child molestation is defined as any act of sexual abuse or exploitation committed against a child under the age of 18. According to the state's Penal Code 288, child molestation can include a wide range of behaviors, including:

  • Lewd or lascivious acts: Touching a child's body with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of either the child or the person committing the act.
  • Sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child: Engaging in sexual intercourse or sodomy with a child under the age of 18.
  • Oral copulation with a child: Engaging in oral copulation with a child under the age of 18.
  • Continuous sexual abuse of a child: Engaging in three or more acts of substantial sexual conduct with a child over some time, regardless of whether the acts were committed in the same place or against the same child.

Penalties for child molestation can be severe and can include imprisonment, fines, and lifetime sex offender registration. The specific penalties will depend on the circumstances of the crime and the age of the victim. Here are the specific penalties:

  • 3, 6, or 8 years in prison, felony probation, and a fine of up to 10,000 dollars if the child is under 14 and no force was used.
  • 5, 8, or 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of 10,000 dollars if the victim is under 14 and force was used.
  • Up to life imprisonment if the child was under 14 and suffered bodily harm.
  • 1, 2, or 3 years imprisonment and a maximum fine of 10,000 dollars OR up to 1,000 dollars in fines and 1 year in jail if the child is between 14 and 15 AND the defendant is 10 years or more older.
  • 25 years to life imprisonment for a habitual sex offender.


Rape is defined as non-consensual sexual intercourse achieved through force, the threat of force, or fraud. Under Penal Code 261, rape can occur in these situations:

  • Rape by force or violence: The victim is forced to engage in sexual intercourse against their will, through the use of physical force or violence.
  • Rape by duress: The victim is forced to engage in sexual intercourse against their will, through the use of threats or intimidation.
  • Rape of an unconscious person: The victim is unconscious or asleep and is unable to give consent to sexual intercourse.
  • Rape of a person with a developmental disability: A person with a developmental disability is unable to give consent to sexual intercourse.
  • Rape of a person who is unable to give consent: This occurs when the victim is unable to give consent due to the influence of drugs or alcohol, or due to a mental or physical condition.

You can face rape charges, regardless of whether the victim was physically injured or threatened.

Rape penalties generally depend on the victim’s age. Here are potential penalties:

  • 3, 6, or 8 years imprisonment AND between 20 years and life obligation to register as a sex offender.
  • 9, 11, or 13 years imprisonment AND sex offender registration for life if the victim is between 14 and 17 years.
  • 7, 9, or 11 years imprisonment AND sex offender registration for life if the victim is below 14 years.

Possible Sex Crimes Defenses

While sex crimes have specific definitions under the law, there are general defenses that might apply to most or any sex charge. Here are examples of suitable defenses for charges of sex crimes:

  1. Consent — If you can show that the sexual act was consensual, then the charges of rape or sexual assault may be reduced or dismissed.
  2. False accusations — In some cases, sex crime charges may result from false accusations made out of revenge, jealousy, or other personal motives.
  3. Mistaken identity — This can happen when the accuser misidentifies the attacker or misremembers key details of the incident.
  4. Alibi — If you can provide evidence that you were not at the location of the alleged crime at the time it occurred, you might successfully defend yourself against the charges.
  5. Insufficient evidence — In some cases, the prosecution may not have enough evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This could result in reduced charges or a dismissal of the case.
  6. Mental incapacity — If you can show that you were unable to understand the nature of your actions or were unable to control your behavior, you may be able to use a defense of mental incapacity.

These defenses are not specific to an offense, so you should consult a sex crimes attorney to analyze the specifics of your charges and devise a suitable defense strategy.

Find a California Sex Crimes Defense Attorney Near Me

Not all allegations of sex crime mean that a person is guilty. Sometimes, these allegations result from a simple misunderstanding or unintentional wrongdoing. We at Sex Crimes Attorney are committed to ensuring any defendant facing a California sex crime charge is tried and represented fairly in court. Once you contact us, we will confidentially evaluate the specifics of your case and devise a defense strategy that fits your situation.

Please contact us at 888-666-8480 to get in touch with one of our attorneys in your location across California.