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California has many laws that criminalize sexual assault.

Defendants charged with sexual assault need to know the details of the specific crime they have been charged with. Each case is unique, and the defenses you raise will depend on the circumstances. Below, we outline the main California sexual assault laws.

Forcible Acts of Sexual Penetration

California Penal Code Section 261 is the state’s rape statute. It covers nonconsensual sex with someone other than a defendant’s spouse. (Raping a spouse is also a crime but is dealt with in a different section of the Penal Code.)

By definition, rape is nonconsensual, and the law states that there has been no consent in the following situations:

  • The victim is incapable of giving legal consent because of a physical or developmental disability.
  • The defendant used violence, threats, duress, or fear of bodily injury.
  • The victim is prevented from resisting because of alcohol or a controlled substance.
  • The victim was unconscious of the act and the defendant knew that fact. For example, the victim could have been asleep.
  • The defendant pretended to be someone else, such as a boyfriend.
  • The defendant used threats of retaliation if the victim did not sleep with him.
  • The defendant threatened to use the power to arrest someone and incarcerate or deport them to coerce sex from the victim.

Punishment will vary. Someone convicted of rape will usually face 3-8 years in state prison, but the punishment can increase if the victim was a minor:

  • If the victim is under 14 years of age, then the defendant faces 9-13 years in prison.
  • If the victim is at least 14 but younger than 18, the defendant faces 7-10 years in prison.

Statutory Rape

This California sexual assault law, Penal Code Section 261.5, is the state’s statutory rape law. It deals with unlawful sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18. Even if the minor wanted to have sex, they are not legally able to give consent.

The penalties will depend on the age of the parties. For example, if one person is under 18 but the other is not more than 3 years older, then it is a misdemeanor offense and is punishable by up to 1 year in county jail. The adult is also liable for civil penalties which can range from $2,000 to $25,000.

If the other person is more than 3 years older, then the crime could be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, and the defendant could face time in a California state prison.

Sexual Battery

California sexual assault laws also criminalize touching someone’s intimate parts without consent. For example, if a defendant gropes a victims’ genitals, groin, anus, or breasts for sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse, then it is misdemeanor sexual battery under Penal Code Section 243.4. Punishment is up to 6 months in county jail or a fine of up to $2,000, or both.

Sexual battery can be aggravated by difference circumstances, which will increase the punishment. Aggravated sexual battery can often be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, with more serious penalties for a felony conviction. Examples of aggravated sexual battery include:

  • Touching another person’s intimate part while he or she is restrained by the defendant or an accomplice.
  • Touching an intimate part of someone who is seriously disabled or incapacitated in an institution.
  • Pretending to be a professional, such as a doctor, and touching a person’s intimate parts.
  • Causing someone against their will to masturbate or touch another person for the defendant’s sexual gratification or arousal or to abuse them.

A felony is punishable by 2-4 years in California state prison and a $10,000 fine. Because these are “wobblers,” the prosecutor has discretion about whether to charge them as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Indecent Exposure

California Penal Code Section 314 criminalizes indecent exposure, which occurs when a person willfully and lewdly does one of the following:

  • Exposes his or her private parts in public or any place where others are present
  • Helps another person expose himself publicly

As a misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by up to one year in county jail and a fine.

Registration as a Sex Offender

Conviction for sexual assault in California usually requires that the defendant register as a sex offender. Their information will be included in a database that is accessible to members of the public. Depending on your offense, your exact address might be shown, or you might be identified only by zip code.

Currently the requirement to register is a lifetime requirement. However, on January 1, 2021, California will institute a three-tiered system. The three tiers will be:

  • Tier 1: this level is for the lowest-level offenders, who must register for at least 10 years.
  • Tier 2: this level requires registration for at least 20 years.
  • Tier 3: this level is reserved for the most serious sex offenders, including rapists, who have a lifetime registration obligation.

Fight Back

If the police have picked you up or are questioning you, you need an attorney experienced with the sexual assault laws in California. The state prosecutes sexual assault charges very aggressively, and you need someone in your corner who can respond in kind.

Contact the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC today. We offer a free case evaluation.

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Kerry L. Armstrong

Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm, the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, in June 2007. Prior to that, he was employed as the senior associate attorney for a large criminal defense firm in San Diego for nine years, eventually being placed in charge of that firm’s branch office in downtown San Diego. At one point, he was managing six attorneys at that firm, as well as several support staff and law clerks. 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.