California Incest Charges: What to Do If You Are Charged Under Penal Code Section 285?

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You face felony charges if the police arrest you on suspicion of committing incest under California Penal Code section 285.

As a result, you must act quickly to find a high-quality legal defense team as soon as possible.

These are serious charges, and a conviction will be costly.  

If you face charges under the California Penal Code §285, then you need a specialist in criminal law who is ready to help you clear your name immediately.

California criminal defense attorney Kerry L. Armstrong, owner of The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, received special designation from the California State Bar as a specialist in criminal defense after passing a second Bar exam.

We can help you avoid the possible life-altering consequences of an incest conviction. Contact us today to get started. 

When Is Incest a Crime in California?

In California, incest is prohibited under Penal Code § 285 PC. Violating this law through marriage or sexual relations with close relatives is a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in jail and fines of up to $10,000.

You can face prosecution for incest in very limited circumstances. If the following elements are not present in your case, then you cannot face an incest charge.

According to Penal Code section 285, incest is a crime only when:

  • The defendant had sexual intercourse with another person; and  
  • When the defendant did so, he/she was at least fourteen years old; and 
  • When the defendant did so, the other person was at least fourteen years old; and 
  • The two persons are related to each other within the degrees of consanguinity within which marriages are declared by law to be incestuous and void.   

Sexual intercourse means any penetration, however slight, of the penis into the vagina or anus.

Orgasm or ejaculation is not required to complete the act of sexual intercourse. 

The definition of intercourse in California is narrow in scope. Therefore, other sex acts committed by prohibited persons do not qualify as incest.

California incest laws refer back to the California Family Code §2200 to define incestuous relationships.

The relatives you cannot have sexual intercourse with or get married to include:

  • Your parents,
  • Grandparents,
  • Great-grandparents,
  • Siblings,
  • Half-brother or half-sister, or
  • Aunts and uncles.

The listed relationships are so closely related by blood that offspring have a high likelihood of suffering from birth defects. 

However, unlike some other states, California law does not consider sexual intercourse or marriage as incest when between one person and their step-parents, step-siblings, or cousins. 

What Is the Penalty for Incest?

Penal Code §285 indicates that a conviction for incest includes incarceration in the state prison.

That means incest is a felony offense, and it carries a minimum incarceration period of sixteen months in prison if probation is not granted.

However, you could get sentenced to up to three years in prison, and the court can order a fine of up to $10,000.

The court can also opt to put you on probation instead of sending you to prison.

The judge’s determination of the appropriate penalty in your case will turn on the facts of the case, your previous criminal history, and whether mitigating factors are present. 

Avoiding prison is one of the goals of a successful defense. At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, we fight vigorously—using all our skill to win your case or obtain the most lenient sentence possible.

Sex Offender Registry

A conviction for incest requires registration as a sex offender according to California Penal Code §290.

Depending on your record and the facts of your case, you most likely will need to register as a tier-one or tier-two sex offender.

You should be aware that a judge could order you to register as a tier three sex offender. 

Tier one sex offenders must register for 10 years. Tier two sex offenders must register for 20 years.  And tier three offenders must register for life. 

You must register every year within five days of your birthday and also anytime you change your address.

Defending Charges Under Penal Code §285

Reviewing your incest charges with an experienced and dedicated sex crimes defense lawyer from The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, is the best way to know which defenses might be available to you.

Here is a small sampling of possible defenses:

  • Lack of age: If you were under 14 when the act occurred, then you cannot be convicted of incest. 
  • Mistake: You might have a chance to defend your case by arguing that you made a reasonable mistake about the relationship between you and the other person. 
  • False allegations: If the alleged victim fabricated the events, then you have an opportunity to discredit that person in hopes of winning an acquittal. 

You should remember that other charges could arise from your conduct, even if incest charges do not apply. 

Superior Service and Support for All of Your Defense Needs

Call The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, for a free consultation at 619-439-0981.

We know you are going through a tough time. You deserve our emotional support and our superior advocacy. 

Why are we different? We have nearly 40 years of experience aggressively defending our clients.

We have tried well over 100 jury trials, and media outlets frequently want our opinions.

Attorney Kerry L. Armstrong received a certification from the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization in criminal defense.

Let us help you, contact us today.

Author Photo

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.

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