Across the U.S. criminal justice system, sex offenses are some of the most severe crimes to be convicted of. Because of the severe and long-term effects of a victim of a sex crime, the law prohibits many acts and attempted acts. Accordingly, the penalties and punishments that accompany sex offenses are often severe.

If you are alleged to have committed a sex crime, know that you have options. It is a serious matter that can have a severe impact on your life.

At Sex Crimes Attorney, we defend clients who are accused of sex crimes across the country. We put together the information below to provide an overview on sex offenses at both the federal and state level, particularly in California. This information should not be assumed as legal advice, as only an experienced legal professional with specific knowledge of your case can provide that. If you are concerned that you will be accused and tried for a sex offense, seek a strong sex crime defense attorney for professional advice.

What are Sex Offenses?

Sex crimes or sex offenses are typically some of the most serious crimes within the U.S. criminal justice systems. When committed, the harm to the victim can be severe and long-lasting, so the penalties and punishment that accompany a sex crime conviction are accordingly harsh, often with minimum sentences.

Sex offenses include many actions and behaviors. Here are some common sex offenses:

  • Sexual assault, also known as sexual battery
  • Sexual abuse
  • Indecent exposure
  • Prostitution
  • Aggravated sexual abuse
  • Rape
  • Statutory rape
  • Child pornography
  • Incest

Are Sex Offenses Considered State or Federal Crimes?

Sex crimes can be punished at both the state and federal levels. Sex crimes that break state laws are tried within state courts, and the laws governing such sex crimes and their associated punishment varies from state to state. Federal sex crimes, on the other hand, are often reserved for more severe forms of sex crimes, particularly those involving more extreme or aggravated crimes and many crimes involving children.

Importantly, you can be tried for the same crime at both the state and federal levels. For instance, your crime may violate certain state laws and more severe federal laws. The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled that being tried in both state and federal courts for the same sex offenses is not double jeopardy.

Misdemeanor Sex Offenses in California

The State of California recognizes less severe forms of sex offenses as misdemeanor crimes, instead of felonies, including the following:

  • Annoying or molesting a child, which does not require touching a child, but instead can use words to solicit or otherwise ask or talk about sexually inappropriate topics.
  • Lewd acts in public, which is defined as touching your genitals or another person’s genitals in a public place with intent to either arouse or gratify yourself sexually or to offend another person.
  • Indecent exposure, which is defined as a person intentionally exposing his or her genitals to another person in order to arouse or gratify himself or herself or to offend the other person.
  • Oral copulation with a minor, which is defined as any contact between one person’s mouth and another person’s penis, vulva, or anus, even when it is consensual, with a person aged under 18 years at the time of the event.
  • Statutory rape, which is defined as consensual sex with a minor (a person under the age of 18) who is no more than three years younger than the offender.
  • Sexual battery, also known as sexual assault, which is defined as any situation wherein one person is touching another person in a sexual manner without explicit consent. This can be elevated to a felony if the offender is accused of restraining the victim or touching a person who is physically, mentally, or otherwise unable to express consent or non-consent.
  • Crimes related to solicitation and prostitution, which is defined as any offer, payment or accepting of payment, or agreement to engage in prostitution. Prostitution is defined as any form of payment in exchange for a sexual act, and this law prohibits both those selling sex (prostitutes) as well as the customers seeking or buying the sex.
  • Soliciting a minor, which refers to any attempt by a person to contact a minor with the intent of engaging in sexual behavior, even if the attempt is unsuccessful. Further crimes, such as actually meeting the minor and engaging in sexual acts with the minor, will trigger additional laws that prohibit such actions.

More serious crimes will often be considered felony sex crimes in California.

Felony Sex Offenses in California

California recognizes more severe forms of sex crimes as felonies, including the following:

  • Rape, including spousal rape. This refers to having non-consensual sexual intercourse with another person, often by force. Even if the non-consensual sex is with your spouse, it is considered rape.
  • Oral copulation by force. This refers to engaging in non-consensual oral sex with any person using force, violence, or other threats.
  • Statutory rape. This refers to the act of sexual intercourse, even if it is consensual, with a minor who is not the spouse of the person. In order for this to be considered a felony, not a misdemeanor, the age difference between the offender and the minor must be more than three years. The penalties are often more severe if the minor is under the age of 16 years and the offender is 21 years or older.
  • Child pornography. This refers to any of the following: possessing, creating, or distributing pornography featuring children.
  • Sexual battery, also known as sexual assault. This may refer to the single or infrequent occasion of forced sexual acts without consent of the other person. For this to be considered a felony, instead of a misdemeanor, the offender may be accused of forced restraint or the victim may be a person who is unable to provide consent due to some inability, such as a mental or physical incapacitation.

Federal Sex Crimes

Sex crimes that break federal laws are some of the most severe crimes in the U.S., with accordingly stiff punishment. Sex crimes are often elevated to the federal level when they meet any of the following situations:

  • Are significantly more severe or aggravated than the sex crimes prohibited by states
  • Involve minors, and children in particular
  • Use or attempt to use fear or threats of serious bodily harm or injury, kidnapping, or death
  • Occur on federal territories, such as military bases or federal facilities, or beyond the borders of a single state

Federal sex crimes can include:

  • Aggravated sexual abuse
  • Rape, including spousal rape
  • Sex crimes that involve children or minors, such as:
    • The creation, production, and possession of child pornography
    • Transmission of child pornography across state or international borders
    • Soliciting a minor for sexual activities across state or international borders
    • Traveling to another state or country with the purpose of engaging in a sexual activity with a minor
    • Kidnapping or trafficking a minor with intent of sexual activity
    • Selling or buying a minor with intent of sexual activity
  • Sexual slavery or human trafficking, regardless of the victim’s age
  • Any sexual activity or abuse that results in death
  • Repeat sex offenses
  • Failure to register or maintain a current status with a federal sex offender database

Are All Sex Offenses Felonies?

Sex offenses can fall under both levels of offenses: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are the less serious of the two, with a range of punishments available in a conviction, including fines and some jail time, which may often be served at a local jail instead of a state high-security prison. Felony crimes are more serious and typically include a minimum prison sentence of one year, though can be much more.

Sex crimes that are convicted at the state level can fall under either misdemeanor or felony status, whereas any federal sex crime conviction is automatically a felony.

Fighting a Sex Offense Charge

Being accused of a crime does not mean that you committed such a crime. It is not uncommon for allegations to occur even when they are untruthful. Every person accused of any crime is assumed innocent until proven guilty – and you have the right of due process in a court to determine whether the crime you are accused of actually took place as it is alleged.

If you believe you will be accused of a sex crime or you already have been accused, consult with an attorney who is experienced in these types of allegations in your area. There are several ways an experienced legal team can guide your defense, including indicating your innocence.

Punishment for Sex Offenders

Punishment for sex crime convictions will depend on the jurisdiction that prosecutes you (state or federal) and the crime you are convicted of.

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor sex crime in California, your punishment can include up to one year in a county jail and fines that can total a few thousand dollars, but unlikely more than $5,000.

If, however, you are convicted of a felony sex crime in California, the punishments are more severe. Many convictions come with automatic mandatory imprisonment minimums, so you may face more than one year or up to 30 years in a high-security prison. You may also be subject to stiffer fines as well as mandatory sex offense registration.

If a federal court finds you guilty of a sexual offense, you will be subject to the most severe and significant penalties.

Sex Offender Registry

The State of California has a three-tier system for the statewide sex offender database. Here are the levels of registration, and your sentencing will indicate which applies to you:

  1. Tier 1 requires a sex offender to maintain a current registration with the database for 10 years. This typically applies to those convicted of the least severe sex crimes, such as misdemeanors like indecent exposure or sexual battery.
  2. Tier 2 requires a sex offender to maintain a current registration with the database for 20 years. This typically applies to those convicted of mid-level sex crimes, such as lewd acts with a minor under 14, including non-forced sex acts.
  3. Tier 3 requires a sex offender to maintain a current registration with the database for his or her lifetime. This typically applies to those convicted of the most serious sex crimes, such as sex trafficking children, sex crimes involving children, especially under the age of 12, and rape.

If you are a repeat sex offender, even of a lower-level sex crime, you may be elevated to a higher tier. If you are guilty of a federal sex crime, the tier system for federal registration increases to 15 years, 25 years, and life, relative to the California state tier system.

Registries often require the following, current information of the offender:

  • Photo and physical description
  • Fingerprints, palm prints, and DNA sample
  • Valid identification card or driver’s license copy
  • The criminal violation(s) as well as the associated legal definitions
  • Criminal history
  • Parole status
  • Outstanding arrest warrants

All information within the state registries are shared with local jurisdictions, including any wherein the offender works, lives, and attends school, all schools and public housing groups nearby the offender’s workplace, residence, and school, employment background check agencies, and social services who protect minors or otherwise vulnerable persons.

Even when you have completed any jail or prison time and paid any mandatory fees, the effects of being registered with a sex offender database are long-lasting. Many companies may prohibit workers who are listed on the sex offender registry, and some residential options may not allow registered sex offenders to live on premises. Furthermore, some communities limit how close a registered sex offender can come to a school or public park. Your freedom to travel freely may also be limited by your registration with a sex offenders’ database.

If you suspect you will be accused of a sex crime or already are, consult with Sex Crimes Attorney today. We can help you understand your options and structure the best defense for your case – simply call us today at 888-666-8480.