In California, a child is any person below the age of 18. Children are considered unable to consent to sexual conduct under California law. Therefore, any sexual behavior, abuse, or indecent action intended to satisfy or arouse the sexual desires of an adult or a child is considered illegal.

Child molestation, under California laws, is a crime that goes against good moral behavior and public decency. It is considered an umbrella for many crimes and takes various forms.

California child molestation offenses are defined under Penal Codes 287, 288, 288.3, 288.2, 288.4, 288.7, 288.5, 261.5, and 647.6. If you or a family member has been accused of child molestation in California, you want to understand the various definitions and the penalties that will accrue if you are found guilty.

Child molestation convictions can be life-altering. Therefore, you want to secure legal counsel upon arrest to help you build a solid defense for your case.

An Overview of Child Molestation

In California, child molestation encompasses various offenses involving sexual misconduct with minors under 18. The laws in California aim to protect minors from sexual exploitation and abuse, defining child molestation in several ways.

Child molestation can take various forms, including but not limited to:

Oral Copulation

Oral copulation, as defined under Penal Code 287, involves oral sex with the mouth on the sexual organ of a minor. The offense is a wobbler, meaning that you can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Lascivious or Lewd Acts on a Minor

Lascivious or lewd acts on a minor, under PC 288, pertain to any non-consensual touching of a child under 16 for sexual pleasure. Touching doesn't have to be on the skin; even actions such as asking the child to engage in such acts with themselves fall under this definition.

Sending Explicit Material to a Child

Under PC 288.2, it is a crime to transmit any obscene or sexual content to a child under the age of 18. This act must have been done with the intent to arouse or seduce the minor sexually. Intent is a critical element in establishing this offense.

Arranging a Meeting With a Child

Arranging a meeting with a minor, as defined under Penal Code 288.4, involves any attempt to meet with the intent of engaging in sexual actions with a child. What sets this offense apart is the requirement that the individual must be "motivated by an abnormal or unnatural sexual interest in minors."

Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Minor

Continuous sexual abuse of a child, as defined under Penal Code 288.5, is when the sexual abuse of a minor occurs three or more times and is executed by someone who lives with the child or has access to them over a three-month duration or longer.

Sexual Acts With Children Under 10

Under PC 288.7, it is a crime when an adult conducts sexual acts such as penetration, oral copulation, or sodomy with a minor under 10. A PC 288.7 violation is considered a felony.

Molesting or Annoying a Child Under 18 

Annoying or molesting a minor under 18 under Penal Code 647.6 involves actions that irritate, disturb, or inconvenience a child for sexual purposes. Physical contact is not the primary focus. The focus is on the inappropriate behavior directed at the child. It is a wobbler.

Unlawful Sex With a Child

Under Penal Code 261.5, it is a crime to engage in sexual activities with a person under 18. It is classified as a felony.

Contacting a Minor to Commit a Felony

A violation of PC 288.3 involves any communication or interaction with a minor intending to engage in a felony-level offense. You are only guilty if there is a sex crime intent in your actions.

Penalties for Child Molestation

Penal Code 287

The penalties for oral copulation with a minor can vary based on the seriousness of the offense. For a felony charge, a guilty person can face imprisonment for up to 16 months, or 2 or 3 years if the victim is under 16 and the defendant is over 21.

You could also face up to 3, 6, or 8 years in prison if the victim is under 14 and the defendant is ten years older than them. For a misdemeanor oral copulation, you could face a sentence of up to 1 year in jail.

Penal Code 288

A conviction for lewd acts with a minor under 14 without the use of force could see you face up to 3, 6, or 8 years in prison and fines of $10,000. When you are guilty of using force, you could face up to 5, 8, or 10 years in prison and fines of $10,000.

Penal Code 288.2

If convicted of sending explicit material to a child, you could face up to 3 years in prison and mandatory registration as a Tier 3 sex offender for life. You could face up to one year in jail for a misdemeanor charge.

Penal Code 288.4

A conviction for the violation of PC 288.4 could see you serve a sentence of up to 16 months, or 4 years, and a fine of a maximum of $10,000.

Penal Code 288.5

If convicted for violating PC 288.5, you could face up to 6, 12, or 16 years in prison.

Penal Code 288.7

If convicted for violating PC 288.7, you could face life imprisonment.

Penal Code 647.6

If convicted of a misdemeanor offense for violating PC 647.6, you could serve a sentence of 1 year in jail and a fine of $5,000. For a felony conviction, you could serve up to 2, 4, or 6 years in prison.

Penal Code 261.5

If convicted of unlawful sex with a minor, you face up to 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.

Penal Code 288.3

A violation of PC 288.3 could see you face the same penalties for the offense you intended to commit after contacting the minor.

Note that all these offenses other than Penal Code 261.5, upon conviction, require you to register as a sex offender for life. This registration could long-term affect your life in areas such as employment or housing. This is because the public can easily access your criminal record.

Immigration Effects for a Child Molestation Crime Conviction

Under United States immigration law, certain criminal convictions are considered "crimes of moral turpitude." These crimes can result in severe immigration consequences, including inadmissibility and deportation. Child molestation convictions often fall under this category.

If you are a non-U.S. citizen facing charges of child molestation, you could face deportation. This means you could be removed from the country and prevented from re-entering or visiting your family or friends upon conviction.

A conviction could also render you inadmissible to the U.S. This means you may be barred from reentering the country.

Can a Child Molestation Offense Conviction be Expunged?

An expungement is a legal process in California that allows you to have certain criminal convictions removed from your records. However, not all criminal convictions are eligible for expungement. Expungement is available for misdemeanor convictions only. That is, if you have accomplished the following:

  • You have completed your sentence.
  • You have entirely served your probation sentence.
  • You have fulfilled all court-ordered requirements, such as paying restitution and fines and attending mandatory programs.

If you were convicted of a felony charge, you may be unable to petition for an expungement. Some of the benefits of expunging a criminal conviction include the following:

  1. Improved employment prospects.
  2. Improved housing opportunities.
  3. The ability to have certain civil rights restored.

However, an expungement does not erase the fact that a criminal conviction occurred. Law enforcers still have your information, which could be used to increase your sentence if you commit the offense again.

Child Molestation Convictions Effects on Your Gun Rights

A conviction for felony child molestation could lead to the withdrawal of your gun rights, as felons are not allowed to own firearms. However, you could have your gun rights restored in some cases if you demonstrate rehabilitation and compliance with all court orders.

Legal Defenses to Child Molestation Charges

There was No Minor Involved

In cases involving child molestation allegations, you could challenge whether the alleged victim meets the age criteria specified in California's child molestation laws. A child under California regulations refers to anyone below 18.

You are not guilty of child molestation if it is established that your victim is over 18. Your lawyer could help build this defense by gathering evidence that supports the claim. The evidence may include school records and birth certificates.

Contact Made with the Minor Was not Sexual

You are not guilty of child molestation if you have no sexual intent. Your lawyer could help you prove that even though contact was indeed made, your conduct was not motivated by sexual intentions.

For example, James comes into contact with ten-year-old Lily by bumping into her while playing football in the park. James is not guilty of child molestation, as he came into contact with Lily accidentally without sexual intent.

You are a Victim of False Accusations

If your lawyer can help you assert that you are a victim of false accusations, you could challenge the prosecutor’s charges. False allegations in child molestation cases are rampant, maybe due to jealousy, misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and confusion.

Your attorney could help you build on this defense by gathering evidence or witness testimonies that raise doubt about the truthfulness of the child molestation allegations against you.

Your lawyer should help you explore the motives behind the false accusation, which could include personal conflicts with your accuser, revenge, or attention. Your attorney should also help you establish the circumstances under which child witnesses were interrogated and whether there was any adult manipulation or influence.

If you could establish alibis to vouch for you, this would help discredit the accusations against you.

Related Offenses

Some of the offenses related to child molestation include the following:

Child Pornography

Under Penal Code 311, it is a crime to possess, create, disseminate, and distribute explicit materials involving children engaging in sexual conduct. Child pornography is any material or matter that depicts sexual conduct by a minor. This material includes videos, explicit images, and any other media format.

To be charged with child pornography, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you distributed or possessed explicit material involving children to arouse or gratify yourself or others sexually.

If convicted for violating PC 311, you could face up to 3 years in prison and mandatory sex offender registration.

Sexual Battery

Under Penal Code 143.4, sexual battery involves non-consensual touching of another person's intimate body parts, including buttocks, genitals, or breasts, for purposes of sexual arousal, abuse, or gratification.

Sexual battery often involves intimidation, fear, or force to accomplish the non-consensual touching. A conviction could see you face up to 1 year in jail, a fine of up to $2000, and a sex offender registration requirement for ten years for a misdemeanor charge. For a felony charge, you could face up to 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.


Kidnapping under Penal Code 207 involves the illegal movement, taking, or restraint of your victim at a substantial distance without their permission. Kidnapping often involves the use of fear or force.

Prosecutors must establish that the defendant intended to commit kidnapping, distinguishing it from other crimes such as false imprisonment.

Kidnapping cases vary, and the severity of the penalties if convicted depends on the age of your victim.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Legal matters involving child molestation are among the most severe in California, and the consequences can be life-altering, affecting your employability and where you can live.

If you or someone you know is facing child molestation accusations, you want to secure the services of a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney. The lawyer should have a proven track record in handling cases where the defendants were accused of child molestation.

At the Law Office of Sara L. Caplan, we have lawyers who can help you build strong defenses for your case. Find out how we can help you by contacting us at 310-550-5877 today.