California's sex crime laws against minors are strict on punishing offenders. You can get a conviction for a felony offense for engaging in a sexually motivated act directed towards a minor. Leah Legal understands the complex and sensitive nature of sex crimes against minors. Therefore, our Los Angeles-based attorneys will explore possible ways to defend you against these charges. Fighting the charges could help you avoid the negative consequences of a sex crime conviction such as a sex offender status.
What It Means to Annoy or Molest a Child Under 18
An innocent interaction with a minor could result in a charge for annoying or molesting a minor. The offense could arise, for example, if you pose a sexual question to a child that would reasonably offend another person or the child.
PC 647.6 prohibits engaging in conduct that would disturb or annoy a child. The act must be sexually motivated.
When you direct this annoying or disturbing behavior towards a child or a group of children, then you are guilty of annoying or molesting a minor.
The offense differs from other sex crimes that require you to make physical contact with the victim.
Instead, PC 647.6 punishes actions that a normal person would immediately find irritating or annoying. The action must also violate a child's privacy and security.
The child must not be offended by the conduct for you to be guilty of the offense. The standard used here determines the possibility that a reasonable person will automatically find disturbing.
The prosecution must also prove that you committed the act due to an unnatural sexual interest in a child. Proving that your actions were sexually motivated can be difficult for the prosecution, which has to rely on circumstantial evidence and your criminal history.
Also, the prosecution has to prove that the victim was a minor at the time of the offense.
Like in all sexual crimes against minors, consent is never a defense. Minors do not have the legal power to consent to sexual activities.
Also, indirect actions such as masturbating outside a school gate when children are leaving school constitute annoying or molesting minors.
Legal Defenses for Charges of Annoying Or Molesting a Child Under 18
Fortunately, you can fight the charges against using several legal defenses. The first step, however, should be hiring a respectable sex crime attorney who has represented other clients for similar offenses.
Experience is critical in understanding what the most appropriate defenses are, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the common defenses for annoying or molesting a minor.
You Reasonably Believed That the Victim Was An Adult
You cannot be guilty of molesting a minor if you reasonably believed that the victim was an adult. You may believe the victim is not minor:
- If the victim or a person closely related to the victim tells you that the victim is 18 or above
- You found the victim in an establishment such as a bar that only allows adults
- The victim provided fake proof of age such as a fake driver's license
- The has the physical appearance of an adult
The prosecution will have to establish that you believed that the victim was 18 or older and that this belief was reasonable.
The Witness Lacks Credibility
Witnesses might be lacking credibility if they have a preexisting bias towards the defendant or are lying. Your attorney could subpoena account information of the witness on social networking sites, counseling records, medical records, and email messages.
The attorney could also interview people who are close to the witness to determine whether he or she has a history of giving false testimony.
If the witness is found to be lying, the prosecution could dismiss your charges.
You Did Not Direct The Conduct Towards A Minor
You must direct the offensive conduct towards a minor for you to be guilty of molesting the child.
However, if you did not intend a minor to witness the conduct, then you cannot be guilty of the offense.
You are not guilty of accidental situations such as when a minor overhears you making an offensive statement that would be considered molestation.
The Conduct Was Not Sexually Motivated
The prosecution has to show that offense you had an abnormal sexual interest in a child or children in general. The evidence will include any past convictions for sex crimes against minors and the circumstantial evidence for the offense.
Proving sexual interest in a child can be hard for the prosecution, which gives you a chance to fight the charges.
You might have to explain the motive behind the action, however. For example, if you are concerned that a child could be facing sexual abuse from a child, and you ask sexual questions, then you cannot be guilty of the offense. You will need to prove that you reasonably believed that the child was a victim of sexual abuse.
The Conduct Could Not Have Offended a Reasonable Person
The conduct should be offensive to a reasonable person under the same circumstances. However, an overreacting child could exaggerate your conduct so that it appears to be molestation.
For example, you accidentally brush against a girl's chest while walking past her. If she reports you for molestation, your lawyer will help you prove that a reasonable person could not have been offended by the act.
Some charges for sex crimes against a minor arise due to false accusations. The child or another adult could report you for annoying or molesting a minor to revenge, due to anger or malice.
Some children are also known to regularly lie about being sexually assaulted, injured, or abused.
Your attorney will interview the person who reported the incident and other witnesses. He or she will then evaluate the child's records to determine whether the child tends to make false accusations.
If the child is a habitual liar, then the prosecution will likely dismiss your charges.
In some cases, false accusations arise from adults who are overprotective of children. In such a case, the accuser could misinterpret innocent actions as illegal actions.
Some adults also coach children into making a false accusation. False accusations damage your reputation and career prospects; therefore, hiring a defense attorney should be a priority.
Defense attorneys are not made equal. Not all specialize in sex crimes or are ideal for your case. Therefore, you need to be careful when choosing the right defense team.
Some pointers include:
- The attorney can answer various questions about your charges, the potential penalties, and the possibilities in your case.
- The attorney communicates openly with you about the progress of the case, new developments and how these changes affect your case
- Your attorney must be a good negotiator. Most cases are settled during the pretrial stage. Such solutions are less uncertain, unlike going to trial.
- The attorney must have confidentiality. If he or she reveals everything you tell him or her, then he or she should not be defending you. A lawyer must have the ability to preserve client confidentiality. His or her job is to defend you.
- Find an attorney who has high ratings from past clients and other attorneys. You can find these ratings online. You could also ask friends and family for a recommendation.
- Your attorney must have an understanding of how the court system works and different techniques that local police, prosecutors, and judges use. These factors contribute greatly to developing the most appropriate defense.
- Lastly, your attorney should have good analytical skills to help him identify gaps that the police might have overlooked. For example, police and prosecutors might focus more on the evidence against the defendant and ignore possibilities that the defendant could be innocent. Thus, it is your attorney's job to identify such omissions to defend you.
PC 647.6 Penalties
The penalties of violating PC 647.6 will help you understand the gravity of the offense. California charges annoying or molesting a minor as either a misdemeanor or a wobbler.
The offense is a misdemeanor if no aggravating circumstances exist. The penalties for a misdemeanor include up to a year in county jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
The offense becomes a wobbler if aggravating factors are present. These factors include:
- Entering an inhabited dwelling, coach, or trailer without consent
- Entering an inhabited part of a building
When charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties will include a maximum of:
- One year in county jail
- $5000 in fines
The prosecutor will charge the offense as a felony if:
- You pose a danger towards other children
- You have at least one prior conviction for a PC 647.6 offense
- You have a prior felony conviction for rape of a minor under 16, child pornography, continuous sexual abuse of a child, and lewd acts with a minor.
The penalties for a felony conviction will include 16 months, two or three years in state prison.
If you have a prior conviction for the specified offenses, you will be incarcerated in state prison for two, four, or six years.
Your lawyer could negotiate for alternative sentencing instead of jail or prison. You could be sentenced to a misdemeanor or felony probation, depending on how the court prosecutes your case.
You might have to fulfill certain conditions while on informal probation such as:
- Paying fines
- Paying victim restitution
- Community service
- Make progressive reports to the court regularly
If you are sentenced to formal probation, the court will attach some or all of the following conditions:
- Pay victim restitution
- Report to the probation officer as required
- Spend up to one year in county jail
- Avoid contact with the victim
Registration as a Sex Offender
When convicted of violating PC 647.6, you will have to register either as a tier-one or tier two sex offender. You will have to register even if you were convicted for a misdemeanor offense.
For your first offense, you will have to register for at least ten years and twenty years for subsequent offenses.
If you are a habitual sexual offender, you will have to register as a tier three sex offender for life.
You should make the first registration within five days of:
- Your sentence if you are released on probation
- Your release from jail or prison
- Your discharge from a treatment facility
You should also update your registration annually within five days after your birthday. Other situations in which you should update your status include:
- Every time you change a resident, you must update your registration with the local law enforcement body within five working days
- If you have multiple residences, in or out of state, you must report them when registering
- You must also update your status if you move to a new state. You will be subject to the registration requirements of that state
- You must also register even if you do not live, but you work or study in California
- You must also register with the campus police in the college you are physically at
- If you do not have a fixed residence, you should report your location at least once every thirty days
- If you intend to move out of California, you must notify the local law enforcement agency of your intention, five days before you move. You should also indicate whether you will be returning to California.
- You must update your details if you change your name
- You must disclose your sex offender status when applying or accepting employment or volunteering at an organization where you will be in contact with minors. If you were convicted for a sex crime against a minor aged below 16, then you cannot legally apply for or accept such a position.
The public can view your information through the Megan's Law website. The extent your details are displayed depends on the seriousness of the offense and your criminal history about sex crimes.
You could apply for internet exclusion to prevent your sex offender status from being available online if you were convicted for misdemeanor molestation of a minor.
Fortunately, the law provides a way of getting relief from the requirement to register as a sex offender. If you registered as a tier-one or tier two offender, you could petition for this relief after 10 or 20 years, respectively. The court has the discretion to accept or deny your petition.
Another way to get relief from the duty to register as a sex offender is to get s certificate of rehabilitation or the governor's pardon.
Clearing Your Criminal Record
If you were convicted for annoying or molesting a minor, you are eligible for record expungement under PC 1203.4. Expunging your record will set aside your conviction, then your records are sealed. Therefore, potential employers, landlords, and the public cannot view your conviction record.
You can expunge your records if:
- You successfully complete your probation
- You did not serve time in state prison
- You are not facing charges for another crime
- You are not on probation or serving a sentence for another offense
If you were convicted of a felony, your attorney must have the offense reduced to a misdemeanor, then proceed with the expungement.
A record expungement does not relieve you from your duty to register as a sex offender. However, it betters your employment and career prospects as you do not have to disclose your conviction.
Once you expunge your records, you can apply for a certificate of rehabilitation. A certificate of rehabilitation serves as an application for the governor's pardon. The certificate also shows that you are now a law-abiding person.
The eligibility requirements include:
- You have been released from custody, probation or parole
- You are not on probation for a felony
- You have lived in California for five consecutive years before registering for the certificate
- You have completed the minimum rehabilitation period, in this case, five years
- You were sentenced for a felony or misdemeanor, and your record has been expunged
Once your petition is accepted, you will be free from the duty to register as a sex offender.
You can also apply directly for a governor's pardon. You can apply for a governor's pardon after seven to ten years after probation, parole, or release from custody.
Cleaning your criminal record gives you a second chance and relieves you from most of the negative consequences of a conviction.
While you can handle record cleaning yourself, hiring a lawyer will help you avoid common pitfalls. You can also focus on other matters as your lawyer handles your legal matters.
Find a Sex Crimes Defense Attorney Near Me
Molesting or annoying a child under 18 can result in severe penalties like registering as a sex offender for life. These consequences stay with you for the rest of your life. The penalties will affect your professional and personal life. It will become harder to get professional licenses, housing, or certain employment opportunities. Potential partners can also see your sex offender status. However, you stand a chance against the consequences by hiring an experienced Los Angeles sex crimes defense attorney like Leah Legal. We have set ourselves apart as a firm dedicated to providing the best legal defense possible to our clients. We will evaluate your case and provide you with an analysis based on your case. Call us today at 818-484-1100.