Child molestation is a serious sex crime charge, especially considering the way that those convicted are treated within the prison system, or the way that it follows those convicted throughout their lives, even if they were truly innocent or changed their ways.
There are a handful of different crimes which involve some form of sexual involvement with a minor. But today, we’re going to focus on Section 647.6 of the California penal code for an in-depth examination of how child molestation charges work here in Long Beach. We’ll begin by exploring what we mean when we talk about child molestation in a legal sense, how and why child molestation charges invoke the punishment they do, and what possible defenses there are against a charge of child molestation in California.
What Is Child Molestation Under California Law?
As noted, there are a number of crimes involving sexual conduct with minors. Many of these could be considered as a form of child molestation to the average person. However, we’re going to focus on California Penal Code Section 647.6: Annoying Or Molesting a Child. This crime is actually fairly broad and covers more than just the performance of sexual acts on a minor.
For a prosecutor to convict you under PC 647.6, they have to prove to the courts that:
- Your conduct was motivated by a sexual interest in the specific child victim or in children in general
- That your conduct was likely to irritate, disturb, or be observed by the child or by other children
You’ll notice that this leaves quite a lot of wiggle room as to what the conduct itself was. We think of molestation as a physical sexual action but legally it can be any conduct motivated by a sexual interest in a child that could irritate or disturb or be observed by a child. This would include sexually charged comments, text messages, leaving pornography around for the child to find, and many other different types of conduct. It’s less the action itself and almost more the consequences and motivation behind that action.
The motivation is also important to speak more on. You could be convicted of child molestation without ever encountering a child. If you are motivated by a sexual interest in children and engage in sexual conduct with an adult, but believed them to be a minor under 18, then you could still be charged with child molestation. The idea here is that your actions were motivated by your belief that you were engaging with a minor and so you acted while fully believing that you were committing an awful crime.
What Are the Punishments for Child Molestation in Long Beach?
It can be a little complicated to determine exactly what punishment you face should you be found guilty of violating PC 647.6. This is because the circumstances surrounding the charge are important for determining the punishment.
If it is your first offense then the punishment will be the most lenient. Those found guilty of their first offense can be sentenced to up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
If you entered into an inhabited dwelling for the purpose of committing the crime then the prison sentence can be up to three years, though the potential fine remains the same.
If you are a repeat offender then a conviction of an additional offense means you can be sentenced to up to three years in prison.
Additionally, if you were convicted of another kind of sexual crime with a minor under sixteen, or a felony conviction under Section 311.4 involving a minor under fourteen years of age, then you could be looking at two, four, or six years in state prison.
There is also the fact that you will have to register as a sex offender and this status can follow you for the rest of your life, making it difficult to find a place to rent or a job to hold down. It can also be extremely impactful to your personal relationships and lead to a lot of isolation and loneliness. While time behind bars or money spent on a fine is more immediately clear how it will impact your life, it is often the sex offender registration that has the biggest impact on your life if you’ve found guilty.
What Are the Possible Defenses for a Charge of Child Molestation in California?
Defending against a charge of child molestation is extremely important, as you can see from the punishments you face should you be found guilty. Lines of defense that an experienced defense attorney could argue include:
- Proving that the encounter was a good-faith mistake, that you truly believed the other to be over 18
- Showing that the individual accusing you of the crime lied about it
- Showing the court that your acts were not directed at a minor and that minors played no role in your motivation for your acts
- Proving that your actions were in no way motivated by a sexual interest in a specific child or in children in general
- Arguing that your conduct would not have caused a normal person to be irritated, disturbed, or injurious without hesitation
Crimes of this nature can also not be charged should they have occurred over a year ago, for misdemeanor molestation, or more than three years previous, for felony molestation. This can prevent you from being charged in the first place, but another specific defense is to show that the alleged crime occurred too long ago to still leave you legally liable.
I’ve Been Wrongfully Accused of Child Molestation, What Do I Do?
Reach out to the Law Offices of Jerry Nicholson and speak with one of our experienced attorneys. A knowledgeable attorney will know what steps need to be taken in order to prove your innocence and win the case and they’ll help you get moving as quickly as possible on building your case.
Remember that these crimes come with punishment when found guilty but that sex offender registration can follow you for the rest of your life, causing social stigma and making it difficult to find employment. It’s important to act fast to avoid these hardships.