Earlier this week, a 32-year-old San Diego school teacher was arrested after police learned that he might have sexually abused several young teens. None of the alleged victims are believed to have been his students. None of the alleged abuse is believed to have taken place at the Escondido school where he worked. He is currently being held at a Vista detention center on four charges of lewd act with a minor.
Understanding California’s Child Molestation Law
It’s a crime for an adult to engage in sexual conduct with any child under the age of 18. This is true even if the child welcomes or willingly participates in the sexual activity. Why? Children do not have the ability to consent. Without consent, any sexual contact with another person is a crime.
The most commonly charged child sexual abuse crime in California is lewd acts with a child, also known as child molestation. The law applies to sexual contact with children under the age of 16. Under California Penal Code 288 PC, it is illegal for any person to:
- Touch a child for a sexual purpose, or
- Cause a child to touch themselves or another person for a sexual purpose.
In other words, it’s a crime to touch or have a child touch you for the purpose of becoming sexually aroused. The sexual contact does not have to involve genitals or locations on the body that are traditionally associated with arousal. Any contact with a child – including contact over clothing – that is intended to illicit sexual gratification or arousal, is a violation of 288 PC.
You don’t have to intend to arouse or sexually satisfy yourself. 288 PC also prohibits contact that is intended to arouse or gratify the child involved in the sexual act.
Penalties for Lewd Acts With a Minor
In California, child molestation under 288 PC is typically a felony offense. The range of penalties that can apply to a conviction for lewd acts ultimately depends on:
- The child’s age
- The defendant’s age
- The relationship between the child and the defendant
- Whether the defendant used force or fear, and
- Bodily injury, if any, suffered by the child.
The 32-year-old Escondido schoolteacher is accused of having engaged in sexual contact with several young teenagers between the ages of 14 and 15. This crime would be tried as a violation of Penal Code 288(c)(1) PC – sexual contact with a 14 or 15-year-old child where the defendant is at least 10 years older. Crimes tried under 288(c)(1) PC are considered to be public offenses, and can be punishable as misdemeanors or felonies.
If the schoolteacher is convicted, his criminal sentence could include:
- A maximum of 3 years in a California state prison and $10,000 in fines, OR
- Up to 12 months in a San Diego County Jail and $1,000 in fines.
A conviction for lewd acts with a child can also have devastating collateral consequences, indulging the loss of professional licenses, possible deportation, and the loss of gun-related rights.
Mandatory Sex Offender Registration Requirements
A person convicted of lewd acts with a child under 288 PC will be required to register as a sex offender in the state of California. The state is currently getting ready to implement its new three-tiered registry system.
Beginning in 2021, a first-time conviction for lewd acts with a minor will be a Tier 2 offense. Tier 2 offenders must stay on the sex offender registry for a minimum of 20 years.
Subsequent convictions for lewd acts with a minor will require lifetime registration as a sex offender in the state.
Defending Charges of Lewd Acts With a Child
Anyone charged with a sex crime involving a child should speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. A strong defense can be the difference between a conviction and an acquittal or dropped charges. Many defenses can be argued if you’ve been accused of engaging in lewd acts with a child, including:
- No intent to sexually arouse or gratify
- Contact was unintentional, or
- False accusations.
An attorney will know which defense(s) are best suited for a specific case. Call our San Diego criminal defense attorneys for immediate assistance with your criminal case today.