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Defenses for California Internet Sex Crime Charges

Posted by Sam Israels | Nov 08, 2019

The internet enables anyone to communicate with others with anonymity. Many use various websites, chat rooms, and even social media to view sexually explicit material and attempt to locate a sexual partner.

Obviously, this type of behavior is legal when it involves consenting adults, but some many types of sexual related internet activity can lead to California sex crime charges.

A sexual related charge or conviction will normally result in life-altering consequences, including the potential of years in prison and mandatory Penal Code 290 sex offender registration. Additionally, a sex crime conviction could make it difficult to obtain employment, go to school, or live in some neighborhoods.

If you are facing any type of internet sex crime charge, you will need an experienced counsel to guide you through the process.  The criminal law firm at Cron, Israels & Stark can protect your rights during the process and prepare a strategy for best possible outcome.

To give readers a better understanding of the most common internet sex crimes and how we can defend you, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

Child Pornography – California Penal Code 311

California Penal Code 311 PC makes it a crime to for anyone to send, transport, duplicate, exchange, advertise, or to persuade a minor to participate in making child pornography.

PC 311 defines child pornography as any material depicting sexual conduct by someone under 18 years old.  The “material” includes photographs, videos, slides, or film. Any “sexual conduct” includes sexual or anal intercourse, oral copulation, masturbation, exhibition of the genitals for the purpose of sexual stimulation.

In order for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction, they must be able to prove all the elements of the crime under CALCRIM 1142 Jury Instructions:

  • You knew the nature of the material, and
  • You knew material showed a minor participating in sexual conduct.

The legal penalties for a child pornography conviction depends on the specific statute that was violated.

Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes – California Penal Code 288.4

This law is typically enforced with the use police internet “stings,” where they will impersonate a minor. Penal Code 288.4 PC covers the sex crime of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes. It's defined as:

“Anyone who, motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children, arranges a meeting with a minor for the purpose of exposing their genitals or pubic or rectal area, or engaging in lewd or lascivious”

It should be noted that it's a crime to just arrange a meeting with a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd behavior – and the arrangement can occur in many forms – such as internet chat room, text messages, or through social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.

If convicted of PC 288.4, the penalties will depend on the severity of the crime and your criminal record.  A misdemeanor conviction carries up to one year in the county jail, a fine up to $5,000, and Penal Code 290 PC sex offender registration.

If you have a prior PC 288.4 conviction, or you actually showed up at the designated location, the prosecution will file a felony case. If convicted, you will be facing up to four years in a California state prison, a fine up to $5,000 fine, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.

California state sex offender registry is normally for life, and will require that your picture is posted online as a sex offender.

Distributing Harmful Material to Minors – California Penal Code 288.2

There are major concerns over people who use the internet to send minors obscene material such as “sexting” to seduce a minor. California Penal Code 288.2 PC makes it a crime to send harmful materials over the Internet, and is known as “harmful matter sent with intent of seduction of minor.”

It should be noted that the exact definition of “harmful material” is not clear-cut, but is described as showing or describing any sexual activity a reasonable person might consider offensive.  It could include a wide range of material, such as photos, videos, or books.

In order for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction, they must be able prove all the elements of the crime under CALCRIM 1140 Jury Instructions:

  • You knowingly sent harmful matter to a minor
  • You knew the recipient was a minor, and
  • You had intent to arouse the sexual desire of yourself, or minor to seduce them.

Penal Code 288.2 is a “wobbler” meaning the case can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense. If convicted of a misdemeanor, you are facing six months in county jail, and a $1,000 fine. If convicted of a felony, you are facing up to three years in a California state prison, a fine up to $10,000, and lifetime registration as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290.

Contacting a Minor with Intent to Commit a Felony – California Penal Code 288.3

Penal Code 288.3 PC makes it a crime to communicate with minors for the purpose of committing a crime. Normally, it will involve some type of sexual act, but covers other activities.

This statute contains several elements of the crime – meaning the prosecutor must be able to prove all of them under CALCRIM 1124 Jury Instructions to obtain a conviction:

  • You contacted, or attempted to contact a minor
  • You planned to commit an offense listed in PC 288.3 with the minor, and
  • You knew, or should have known, the person was a minor.

The California sex crimes included under Penal Code 288.3 PC include:

Penal Code 288 – Lewd Acts with Child Under 14
Penal Code 288a – Oral Copulation with Minor
Penal Code 261 – Oral Copulation by Force, Fear, Rape
Penal Code 286 – Sodomy
Penal Code 289 – Forcible Acts Sexual Penetration
Penal Code 311 – Child Pornography
Penal Code 273a – Child Endangerment
Penal Code 207 – Kidnapping

It should be noted this statute is also often enforced through internet sting operations that involve undercover law enforcement officers pretending to be a minor. If convicted, the penalties can be harsh, including lifetime registration as a sex offender.

Experienced Legal Representation

If you have been accused of an internet sex crime, you should not make any statements to law enforcement or risk incriminating yourself. Rather, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has dealt with these type of cases before.

It's important to note anything you say to police may potentially be used against you in a negative way in court. You have a right to speak with an attorney before answering any questions.

In many internet sex crime cases, there are valid legal defenses based on how law enforcement investigated your case. For example, if they violated your constitutional rights during an investigation, any evidence seized could be deemed inadmissible in court.

If a prosecutor doesn't have access to key evidence, they will often be forced to dismiss the case. Don't make the mistake of assuming your case has no viable defense and there is no action you could take to avoid a conviction.

Our seasoned criminal lawyers will thoroughly review the facts of your case in order to determine available defense strategies. We might be able to negotiate a favorable plea bargain, or even a case dismissal. Internet sex crime convictions often carry life-altering consequences. We will discuss all the facts and circumstances of your case and provide advice moving forward. Call our law firm for a free case evaluation.

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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