Can You Be Charged with a Sex Crime As a Minor in California?

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California law provides special treatment for juveniles. Indeed, some prosecutors in California have even said they will not try a minor as an adult.

But the changing landscape of juvenile justice in California may prompt you to ask: Can a minor be a sex offender?

The answer is yes, a minor can be a sex offender. A label like “sex offender” for a minor is extraordinarily harmful and detrimental to a child’s future.

The team of dedicated lawyers at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, have over 40 years of experience fighting to protect the rights of everyone charged with a sex crime in California—including minors.

Get the help you need by calling 619-776-3166 or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.

When Can a Minor Be a Sex Offender?

Prosecutions of crimes allegedly committed by children between 12 and 17 occur in juvenile court.

California law indicates that a child who commits a criminal offense may be adjudged a ward of the court.

The juvenile court then addresses the sentencing needs of the child. The court has numerous sentencing options at its disposal.

Punishments for juvenile offenders include:

  • Probation with strict conditions,
  • House arrest,
  • Community service, and
  • Incarceration at a juvenile detention center.

The majority of juveniles are probation candidates. However, circumstances arise which dictate incarceration.

The prosecutor has to decide on sex cases that involve the threat or use of force, and the offender is at least 16.

If so, the prosecution could ask the juvenile court judge to transfer the case to the criminal court for prosecution.

The court must conduct a hearing, known as a Welfare and Institutions Code section 707(b) hearing, to determine if the “adult” criminal court should hear the juvenile’s case. 

The prosecutor has the authority to ask for a hearing if the juvenile faces a felony such as murder or any of the following sex crimes:

  • Rape with force, violence, or threat of great bodily harm;
  • Sodomy by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm;
  • A lewd or lascivious act as provided in subdivision (b) of section 288 of the Penal Code;
  • Oral copulation by force, violence, duress, menace, or threat of great bodily harm; or 
  • An offense specified in subdivision (a) of section 289 of the Penal Code.

Your child faces sentencing as an adult if convicted in criminal court.

As a result, your child could spend time in adult prison and face all other sentencing consequences if tried as an adult, including registering as a sex offender.

How Long Do Juvenile Sex Crimes Remain on Your Record?

A juvenile sex crime conviction would remain on your record if you faced prosecution as an adult. You may apply to the juvenile court to seal your record if your case remains in juvenile court.

If your case remains in juvenile court and your application for sealing your record is approved, the court will seal all of the records pertaining to your sex crime.

This includes all records maintained by the sex offender registry.

Sealing your record is not automatic, and having the assistance of a qualified and experienced California criminal lawyer gives you your best chance to wipe your juvenile record clean.

What Is the Legal Age to Have Sex in California?

Statutory rape is the term commonly associated with having sex with a person younger than the age of consent.

In California, Penal Code §261.5 indicates that a person 18 years of age or older is an adult. Conversely, a person younger than 18 years of age is a minor. 

In California, a minor cannot legally consent to sexual intercourse.

Even if the minor does not object or say no, the rule is absolute because California law states that minors do not have the capacity to consent to sex.

This rule applies to sexual encounters between two people under 18. Both people could face misdemeanor charges if they are both under 18 and are no more than three years older or three years younger than each other.

The charge becomes a wobbler offense—i.e., an offense that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony—if one of the people is more than three years older or younger than the other. 

Contact a San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer Today to Protect Your Child’s Future

We all want what is best for our children, even if they have sex offense allegations against them.

Sex offenses are complex cases that require intense investigation, preparation, and extensive knowledge of criminal and juvenile law.

At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, Kerry and his associates are award-winning attorneys who understand what is at stake for your child.

We have over 40 years of experience, including well over 100 jury trials—and we know how to get the best results possible for your case. Call us today at 619-776-3166 or contact us online to learn more. 

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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