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No – incest is not legal in California

Every state prohibits incest in some form. 

One reason for this is the high chance of birth defects in children whose parents are related. 

How closely related must family members be for their relationship to qualify as incest? States differ on what relationships count as incest.

In this respect, California’s incest laws are more lenient when compared to some other states. 

However, those whose relationship qualifies as incest under the California incest laws may face a felony sex offense charge. 

A felony sex offense is a serious charge that should not be taken lightly. If you face an incest charge, you need professional representation. 

Contact an experienced sex crimes defense attorney to discuss the charges against you and potential defenses. 

Who Can Be Guilty of Incest Under California Incest Laws?

Incest laws in California apply to closely related family members. 

In California, incest can occur between: 

  • Parents and children,
  • Grandparents and grandchildren,
  • Great-grandparents and great-grandchildren,
  • Siblings,
  • Half-siblings, and
  • Uncles/aunts and nephews/nieces. 

California incest laws prohibit these family members from:

  • Engaging in sexual relationships or
  • Getting married. 

Unlike other states, in California incest does not apply to cousins, adopted siblings, or stepparents and stepchildren. 

These family members may engage in sexual relations and get married under California incest law. 

It is important to note that consent is not relevant to an incest charge. That is, a person can be charged with incest even if both people consented to the sexual act or the marriage. 

What Are The Penalties for California Incest?

Incest is a felony in California. 

An incest conviction can carry the following penalties: 

  • A prison sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years; 
  • A fine of up to $10,000; and
  • Mandatory registration as a sex offender. 

The length of a person’s prison sentence depends on several factors. These factors include: 

  • Prior criminal history, 
  • The degree of the family relation; 
  • Presence of mitigating factors. 

Probation is a potential result with an incest conviction. Additionally, because incest is a sex offense in California, California incest laws require people convicted of incest to register as a sex offender. California law requires registration for life. However, in 2021 this will change to 20 years. 

Because the penalties for an incest conviction can be severe, talk with a seasoned criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

What Defenses Are Available? 

Several defenses might be available to those charged with incest under the California incest laws.


One possible defense against an incest charge is that the accusations are false. If you did not engage in incest, you could assert that you are innocent as a defense. 

Lack of Knowledge

If you did not know of the family relation to your sexual partner or spouse, you might assert a lack of knowledge as a defense against an incest charge. 

However, California courts are unclear about whether this is a valid defense. 


If you are under 18 years of age and your sexual partner or spouse is an adult, you may not be guilty of incest. However, the adult partner could still be charged with incest. 

Contact a knowledgeable sex-crime defense attorney to discuss the defenses available in your case.

Facing a California Incest Charge? Contact a Defense Attorney at Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, Today

If you are facing charges for incest in California, consult an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can help to protect your rights from the early stages of your case. 

At the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, our seasoned sex-crime defense attorneys are available to discuss your case. Contact us online or by calling 619-900-6902 to schedule a free case consultation.

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Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.