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When modern relationships crumble, they can leave a trail of evidence. 

You may feel hurt and angry, causing you to do things you later regret. Maybe that regrettable action includes sharing intimate photos and/or videos of your ex. 

However, sharing explicit images without consent is a crime. A simple revenge porn post to social media or a graphic photo to your friends could land you in jail.

If you face charges of cyber exploitation, here are the four elements of revenge porn California law that you should understand.

Revenge Porn Law California

What is Revenge Porn? 

In California, and the majority of other states, cyber exploitation or “revenge porn” is illegal.

State law regards this content as nonconsensual pornography, and violators can face charges of a criminal offense.

Similarly, hackers who break into a victim’s files and release intimate photos could receive charges of revenge porn. While a hacker’s motive might not be revenge, such a deceptive action still violates one’s privacy.

The California Penal Code (Cal. PC § 647(j)(4)) defines the four elements of revenge porn:

  1. Intent to distribute. A person intentionally distributes an image of the intimate body part of another identifiable person, or
    1. A person intentionally distributes an image of another person engaged in a sexual act.
  2. Private circumstances. Someone takes the images under circumstances in which the parties understand that the images will remain private.
  3. Knowledge of distress. The person distributing the images knows or should know such action will cause serious emotional distress.
  4. Distress experienced. The person depicted suffers serious emotional distress.

Revenge Porn Definitions

You may wonder about the scope of some terms used in the legal definition of nonconsensual pornography.

Here are a few definitions that apply to revenge porn law California.

  • A sexual act includes “sexual intercourse, sodomy, oral copulation, sexual penetration, or an image of masturbation”
  • Intent to distribute includes
    • personally distributing the image, or 
    • arranging, requesting, or intentionally causing another person to distribute that image
  • Intimate body part includes 
    • any portion of the genitals, the anus, or 
    • the female breasts below the top of the areola
    • either uncovered or clearly visible through clothing

So, revenge porn laws in California dictate that sharing explicit, distressing images could bring charges of revenge porn. 

When is Sharing an Image Not Revenge Porn?

Under certain circumstances, such as these, sharing a sexually explicit image is not illegal, if

  • You are reporting an unlawful activity.
  • You are complying with a subpoena or court order.
  • You are participating in a legal proceeding.

So, you should never share explicit images with the public. However, sharing these images with the police or the court does not violate California’s revenge porn law.

What Punishment Exists for Revenge Porn?

Revenge porn hurts the victim. It also brings legal trouble to the people distributing the image. Such action may seem like a prank, but it comes with serious consequences.

The California Penal Code lists the following punishments for revenge porn California:

  • A fine of up to $1,000, and
  • Up to six months in jail

If the victim of revenge porn is a minor, punishment of the perpetrator escalates.

  • Up to 364 days in jail, or
  • A fine not exceeding $2,000

However, the defendant could also be charged with felony possession of child pornography. In addition, someone who distributes sexually explicit images may face charges under other California laws.

  • Harassment using an electronic device (Cal. PC § 653.2). If you use an electronic device to harass a victim, you could face 
    • Up to a year in jail, and 
    • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Unauthorized use of an electronic device. (Cal. PC § 502) If you share sexually explicit images from someone else’s device, you could face a felony charge. This crime carries a penalty of 
    • Up to three years in prison, and 
    • A fine of up to $10,000

In addition to the California Penal Code criminal charges, the victim could bring suit using civil tort law.

So, along with a criminal conviction, you could face a hefty civil financial payout.

What are Defenses Against Revenge Porn?

If you’re charged with revenge porn, you can attempt these defenses.

  • Consent. The person depicted gave you permission to share the explicit images
  • No reasonable expectation of privacy. Sometimes, you can prove that the person depicted lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy

If you have been charged with nonconsensual pornography, our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, can help you.

With nearly four decades of experience, including more than 150 trials, we can tell you what legal strategy fits your case. Fill us in on the details of your charges, and we will find your best defense.

A charge of revenge porn brings serious consequences, but we’re here to help you minimize that harm.

To speak to one of our revenge porn California criminal defense attorneys about your charges, please contact our office here or call us.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong

Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm, the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, in June 2007. In 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys. In 2017, he was also selected for the Super Lawyers Top 50 in San Diego list. In 2014, he was selected as a Top Attorney by Los Angeles Magazine. Additionally, Mr. Armstrong was also named as a Top Attorney by the San Diego Business Journal in 2014.