What Are the Penalties for Sexting a Minor in California?

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California sexting laws are confusing by many accounts.

It is hard to understand what you can and cannot do, especially when you are a teenager, because there are no laws that address sexting a minor specifically.

That means a conversation between you and someone under the age of eighteen could be a crime even though both parties consented. 

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, have helped numerous clients facing punishment for violating the California sexting laws.

Our experienced and aggressive sex crime lawyers can help you avoid the harsh penalties and consequences that could follow a conviction.

Contact our office today and start mounting a vigorous defense before it’s too late.

Is Sexting a Crime in California?

Sexting is the act of sending nude or sexually explicit photos and videos to another. It is not a crime for consenting adults to sext each other.

However, you should understand that sending obscene photos without consent or sending sexual images obtained unlawfully—like when someone engages in “upskirting”—could be a crime in California. 

The law for teens is muddy. As a parent, you might be dismayed to know that teenagers commonly sext each other.

So, if you have a teenager you suspect engages in this behavior, you may need to ask, “Is sexting a minor illegal?” 

Sexting Someone Under the Age of Eighteen

Prosecutors can bring charges for sexting if one or both parties are under eighteen.

They can use charges like possession and dissemination of child pornography or possession of obscene material to prosecute alleged offenders. 

In California, Penal Code §288.2 declares that sending obscene material via electronic means, including through a cell phone, to a minor could result in criminal charges.

Obscene material may include photographs, videos, or other depictions that appeal to sexual desires. The intent is often to seduce the recipient into engaging in sexual conduct.

For example, sending a photo of genitalia to a minor can meet the definition of distributing obscene material. 

Child Pornography

Possession or dissemination of child pornography is a similar offense. The primary difference is the sender lacks the intent to seduce the recipient into sexual conduct. 

Under Penal Code §311, child pornography is obscene material that depicts a person under the age of eighteen engaging in a sex act.

Penal Code §311 criminalizes possessing, disseminating, distributing, copying, or otherwise sharing obscene material involving a child under the age of eighteen. 

Sexting Penalties

The penalties for sexting crimes vary depending on the charge, criminal history, and other factors.

Prosecutors can bring charges for disseminating obscene material to a minor either as a misdemeanor or a felony.

A misdemeanor carries up to one year in jail. A felony charge of disseminating obscene material to a minor is punishable by a state prison sentence of two, three, or five years.

The penalties for child pornography offenses vary depending on the facts of your case.

Child pornography offenses are typically felonies that carry sentences of several years in state prison and require you to register as a sex offender if convicted. 

If prosecuted in federal court for child pornography, there are often “minimum mandatory” sentences starting out at five years and increasing upward.  

Can You Get in Trouble for Sexting a Minor?

Prosecutors in California have considerable power to alter a person’s life, even if you are under eighteen.

They can bring charges against you for sharing intimate information, even between people under eighteen, despite their consent.

Level the playing field by calling the California sex crimes lawyers at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, today at 619-234-2300 or by contacting us online for a free consultation.

We offer our clients the superior legal advocacy you need to avoid the harsh penalties of California sexting laws.

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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