The internet has made it possible to communicate with others with anonymity, and many people use websites to chat rooms, and social media services to view sexually explicit content and find sexual partners.
While this type of conduct is typically legal when it occurs between consenting adults, internet activity that is related to sex has the potential to result in criminal liability.
Being charged with or convicted of an internet sex crime can potentially disrupt and ruin every aspect of both your personal and professional life. In the State of California, "sex crimes" may refer to any criminal charge involving sexual activity that is brought against a defendant.
This definition includes rape, child sexual abuse and molestation, prostitution, indecent exposure, and other related criminal offenses.
If the internet is involved, the offense can be classified an “internet sex crime.”
Being charged with or convicted of a sex crime can severely affect a person's reputation, result in a requirement they register as a sex offender, and even land them in jail for years.
A sex crime conviction will also make it difficult – if not impossible – to keep or obtain a job, go to school, or live in a particular neighborhood. If you have been charged with an internet sexual related crime, you need experienced legal counsel on your side every step of the way.
If contacted by a police detective, it's important to excerise your legal right to remain silent. Politely decline to answer their questions without first consulting with an attorney.
The Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin, LLP will be able to safeguard your legal rights while your case is pending and may be able to help you formulate a successful legal defense to your charge.
Common Types of California Internet Sex Crimes
There are a wide variety of sexual related offenses committed over the internet, but some of the most common internet sex crimes in Los Angeles include any of the following:
Child Pornography – California Penal Code Section 311: This law prohibits anyone from sending, transporting, duplicating, exchanging, advertising, possessing, or persuading minors to participate in making child pornography. Under 311 PC, child pornography is defined as any matter or material depicting sexual conduct by a person under 18 years old.
This could include photographs, slides, or film. Sexual conduct could include sexual intercourse, oral copulation, anal intercourse, masturbation, exhibition of the genitals or rectal area for the purpose of sexual stimulation, among others. In order to be convicted of any child pornography offense, the prosecutor has to prove:
- (1) the defendant knew the nature of the material, and
- (2) knew the material showed someone under 18 personally participating in or simulating sexual conduct.
The legal consequences for a child pornography conviction will vary depending on the specific code section the defendant violated. See related page: Child Pornography.
Distributing Harmful Material to Minors – California Penal Code Section 288.2: With advances in internet technology, there is an effort to address the growing concern over the use of obscene or indecent materials such as "sexting" to seduce minors.
California law specifically prohibits sending harmful materials over the Internet. Under 288.2. PC, which is also commonly known as harmful matter sent with intent of seduction of minor, penalizes individuals who send any harmful matter to a child with the intent of seducing them. However, the exact language of “harmful material” is not clear.
So, what exactly is considered harmful material? By law, harmful material has to show or describe sexual conduct that a reasonable person would consider offensive. This could include a wide variety of material, including pictures, videos, books, or magazines. In order to obtain a conviction, the prosecutor has to prove specific elements of the crime.
- (1) that you knowingly sent harmful matter to a minor by any means,
- (2) you knew the recipient was a minor, and
- (3) with the specific intent to arouse the sexual desire of yourself or the minor to seduce them.
California Penal Code 288.2 can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony offense based on the specific facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history.
A misdemeanor conviction can carry a county jail sentence of up to six months, and a $1,000 fine. A felony conviction can lead to a California state prison sentence of up to three years, a $10,000 fine, and lifetime registration as a sex offender pursuant to California Penal Code Section 290.
Contacting a Minor with Intent to Commit a Felony – California Penal Section Code 288.3: Under this law, it's a crime to communicate with minors for the purpose of committing a crime. Typically, these crimes will involve a sexual act, but the law covers other activity as well.
The legal definition of Penal Code 288.3, contains several elements of the crime, meaning the prosecutor has to be able to prove every elements for you to be guilty of this offense. These include:
- (1) you contacted, or attempted to contact a minor,
- (2) when you acted, you planned to commit one of the offenses listed in 288.3 PC involving that minor; and
- (3) you knew, or should have known, the person was a minor.
The criminal offenses included under California Penal Code Section 288.3 include:
- lewd acts with a child under 14 (Penal Code Section 288),
- oral copulation with a minor (Penal Code Section 288a),
- oral copulation by force or fear, rape (Penal Code Section 261),
- sodomy (Penal Code Section 286),
- forcible acts sexual penetration (Penal Code Section 289),
- child pornography offenses (Penal Code Sections 311.1, 311.2, 311.4, 311.11)
- child endangerment (Penal Code Section 273a), and
- kidnapping (Penal Code Section 207).
This law is frequently enforced through internet sting operations involving undercover officers who pretend to be minors. If convicted, the legal penalties can be severe, including lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Lewd Purposes - California Penal Code Section 288.4: In basic terms, this is attempted sexual misconduct typically arising out of police internet “stings,” where the police impersonate a real person. In California, 288.4 PC covers the sex crime offense of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes.
It's defined as:
- “Every person who, motivated by an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children, arranges a meeting with a minor for the purpose of exposing his or her genitals or pubic or rectal area, or engaging in lewd or lascivious.” This means it's illegal to just arrange a meeting with a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd behavior.
The contact and arrangement of the meeting can come in many forms, including internet chat rooms, text messages, or posts on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. The legal penalties for arranging a meeting with a minor varies, depending upon on your prior record and the severity of the offense.
If convicted as a misdemeanor, you could receive up to one year in a county jail, a $5,000 fine, and registration as a sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290. However, if you have a prior conviction under this statute or actually showed up at the designated location, the prosecution will file the case as a felony offense.
If convicted of a felony offense, the legal penalties can include up to four years in a California state prison, a $5,000 fine, and lifetime registration as a sex offender.
See our blog: Meeting Minors for Lewd Purposes in Los Angeles.
Legal Penalties and the California Sex Offender Registry
The state of California imposes very strict penalties for felony sex crime convictions, including convictions for internet sex crimes.
Penalties can range in severity, depending upon the nature of the charge, and may extend up to a life prison sentence.
If you are convicted of a sex offense, you will typically have to register on the California state sex offender registry for life. This requires that your picture be posted online as a sex offender. For this reason, it is critical for anyone accused of a sex crime to do everything possible to avoid a conviction.
The Critical Need for Legal Representation
If you have been charged with an internet sex crime, you should always speak with an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer before you speak with the police. Anything you say to a police officer or detective may potentially be used against you later in court.
You have a constitutional right to speak with legal counsel before answering any questions, and you have an absolute right to legal representation at all stages of your case. In many cases, there may be legal defenses available based on the way in which the law enforcement authorities investigated your offense.
If they violated your constitutional rights during the investigation, any evidence gathered against you may be deemed inadmissible in court. Without access to key evidence, the state prosecutors will likely be unable to proceed in your case.
These kinds of violations can be difficult for non-attorneys to spot, so do not make the mistake of assuming that your case is hopeless and that there is nothing you can do to avoid a conviction.
You should always have an attorney thoroughly review the facts of your case in order to determine whether you have any legal defenses available to you. Even if you do not, an attorney can often negotiate a plea bargain agreement that will result in a better outcome than you would have been able to secure without the assistance of counsel.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
Internet sex crime charges and convictions are serious business in the state of California, and a conviction can have potentially life-long consequences.
The criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin LLP can discuss the facts and circumstances of your case with you and can assist you with formulating a solid legal defense to your charge. Our top-rated Los Angeles criminal defense law firm offers a free immediate response. Call our office at 877-781-1570.