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Due to extensive media coverage, sex crimes have become more prevalent in America’s national conscience in recent years. This can present a threat to people accused of California sex crimes.

Few people are unaware of the recent barrage of sexual misconduct accusations against public figures.

The accused (and in some cases admitted) offenders include media moguls, respected journalists, and politicians. Many sex crime victims are children, and the law shows little leniency to child sex offenders.

Some sex crimes carry a greater stigma or more serious penalties than even those involving homicide. Even an unsubstantiated California sex crime accusation denied by the alleged perpetrator may end a career.

Below, the San Diego sex crimes lawyers at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC will go over the different types of sex crimes in California and possible defenses for those crimes.

If you have any questions, please contact us online or call (619) 598-1703. We want to hear your story.

What is a Sex Crime in California?

A California sex crime is a sexual act that the victim does not desire and does not give consent to, or which the victim consents to under coercive circumstances. 

Those convicted of a sex crime are almost always classified as “sex offenders” and must register in California’s Sex Offender Tracking Program database.

Keep in mind that punishments for sex crimes can vary, with the help of a criminal defense lawyer. We can discuss your case during a free consultation.

Types of Sex Crimes in California

Statutory Rape 

According to California law, persons under the age of 18 cannot have consensual sex with an adult. This means that even a consensual sexual relationship can leave you liable for criminal prosecution.

If an adult has sex with a minor, the adult can be charged with statutory rape. (California Penal Code §261.5

The only exception to the statutory rape law is when an adult marries a minor. California’s marriage age is 18. However, children may marry with parental consent and judicial approval. (California Family Code §301-303)

Statutory rape grabs headlines and ruins careers. Some of the more high profile cases of statutory rape, involving adult teachers and minor students, outrage communities.

These teachers may be fired and/or charged with statutory rape, sometimes in conjunction with charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Lewd and Lascivious Acts 

These acts are considered indecent or of a sexual nature. When lewd and lascivious acts are committed on a child, the offender commits child molestation. Charges and penalties for these acts can vary greatly, depending in part upon the specific acts alleged and the age of the child.

California law says a person who commits these acts upon a “child who is under the age of 14 years, with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the child” will face felony charges. (California Penal Code §288)

A person who commits non-forcible lewd and lascivious acts faces up to eight years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Penalties increase if the offender used force or was the child’s caregiver.

If the offender inflicted bodily harm on the child, committed acts on more than one victim, or committed acts on a child under ten, the offender can face life in prison. (California Penal Code §288)

Forcible Rape  

While often accompanied by significant violent acts against the victim, rape occurs whenever sex between two otherwise competent adults is (or becomes) non-consensual.

Rape occurs under the following conditions: (California Penal Code §261)

  • When a mentally or physically disabled person cannot consent to sex and the perpetrator should know of this lack of consent
  • When sex is perpetrated against the victim’s will “by means of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury”
  • When the victim is unconscious or asleep
  • When a medical professional sexually penetrates a victim for a non-professional purpose
  • When the victim consents because the perpetrator threatens to retaliate in the future against the victim or any other person
  • When the victim consents out of fear of being incarcerated, arrested, or deported

A rape conviction brings prison time of up to eight years. Raping a minor or injuring the rape victim adds additional prison time.

Sexual Battery  

While often called “assault,”  battery occurs whenever an individual makes unreasonable and uninvited contact with another person.

If the contact is sexual in nature, a charge of sexual battery may be brought. This offense is sometimes charged when one or more elements of rape or another offense are not present.

If somebody is touching another person’s intimate body part (buttocks, breasts, or genitals) against that person’s will for the purposes of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, or if the person doesn’t consent to it, it is sexual battery

According to the California Penal Code, touching includes an action “accomplished directly, through the clothing of the person committing the offense, or through the clothing of the victim.” (California Penal Code §243.4)

The law defines intimate part as “the sexual organ, anus, groin, or buttocks of any person, and the breast of a female.”

There are many sexual acts listed in the California Penal Code that qualify as a sex crime: 

  • Touching an intimate part of a person while that person is restrained by an accomplice
  • Touching an intimate part of someone who is disabled or institutionalized
  • Touching an intimate part of an unconscious person

In addition, someone who forces another person to masturbate or to touch an intimate part of a third person faces liability for sexual battery.

“Sexting” and Related Offenses 

Sexting becomes a problem when an adult texts in a lewd manner with a person known to him or her to be a minor. Asking a minor to share a sexually explicit photo is illegal.

Possessing a sexually explicit photo of a minor leaves you liable for child pornography charges. The fact that the adult is engaging in pure fantasy is not a defense.

Adults engaging in consensual sharing of sexual images with another adult usually face no criminal liability. Exceptions apply for sharing child pornography or revenge porn.

Sex Offender Registration Violations  

California was one of the earliest states to adopt a sex offender registry. If you are required to register as a California sex crime offender, you may need legal advice.

We defend individuals who are charged with failing to register or to comply with other requirements, such as reporting a change of address or failure to report within five days of their birthday.

Possible Defenses To Rape And Sexual Assault Charges

The outcome of many sexual assault trials turns on who is more credible, the victim or the accused. Your attorney will carefully review whether any of several defenses may be viable in your case.

Did the Alleged Act Really Happen?

This question may or may not be relevant in a given case, depending upon the nature of the state’s evidence. We will look for any available evidence that casts doubt upon the rape charge.

Was the Defendant the Assailant? 

If there was clearly an assault, your attorney can raise questions regarding the accuracy of the identification of the defendant.

Advances in DNA technology have made it easier in some cases for the prosecution to overcome this hurdle. Technology may also exclude an individual from suspicion before he or she is even charged.


Assuming the victim is a mentally competent adult who was not severely intoxicated, the question of whether an alleged rape or sexual assault was consensual is often at the heart of a defendant’s case.

California’s “rape shield law” prohibits introduction of evidence concerning the alleged victim’s past sexual conduct as a means of proving consent.

An exception applies when such evidence is used to “impeach” the alleged victim, that is, to call into question the trustworthiness of his or her testimony.

An experienced and knowledgeable California sex crimes defense attorney will explore whether this exception may apply in your case.


In many other crimes, a defendant can avoid the risk of conviction of a serious crime in exchange for pleading guilty to a less serious one. However, California’s sex offender registration statutes apply to a wide variety of sexually-based offenses.

A defendant cannot ordinarily avoid registration by pleading guilty. Because of this, defendants will often forego any possible plea agreement.

Defend Yourself Against Sex Crime Allegations

If you’ve been charged with a California sex crime, you need legal advice and an advocate on your side. This serious charge requires serious attorneys with years of practice helping clients in similar situations. 

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, can provide your best legal defense against a California sex crime.

We’ve defended clients in well over 100 jury trials, securing not-guilty verdicts in all types of criminal cases (including many sex crimes). 

Call us at (619) 598-1703 or contact us online today to start building your California sex crime defense. We provide free consultations, and we keep your story confidential.

After the consultation, we’ll get to work, helping you restore your record and your reputation.

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.