What Is the Statute of Limitations for Child Molestation in California?

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Being accused of a sex crime can wreak havoc on your life. In addition to social and emotional consequences, you also face harsh legal penalties. This is particularly true if someone accuses you of child molestation.

Due to the significant and sometimes permanent impact of a child molestation accusation, the law protects against false claims. One such protection is the statute of limitations. The child molestation statute of limitations in California differs depending on the crime.

Due to recent changes in the law, determining which statute of limitations applies to your case, if any, can be complicated. To determine the statute of limitations on child molestation in California, contact an experienced attorney today.

Defining Laws Around Child Molestation in California

Child molestation in California is governed by California Penal Code section 288, which defines the crime as “any lewd or lascivious act . . . upon the body . .  of a child who is under the age of 14 . . . with the intent to arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of that person or the child.” 

A conviction under this statute is a felony punishable by three to eight years in state prison as long as force was not used, there was only one victim, and the defendant does not have a prior conviction for the same type of charge (among other qualifiers).

Being charged with child molestation does not necessarily require that you touched a child’s sexual organ or even the child’s bare skin. The law requires only that an adult touched a child (under the age of 14) in a sexual nature or caused the child to touch themselves. The intent required is to arouse or gratify the sexual desires of the adult or the child.

Elements of Child Molestation

The prosecutor must prove each element of a child molestation charge to secure a conviction. For child molestation, that means proving the following:

  • The child was under the age of 14 at the time of the incident;
  • You touched any part of a child’s body willfully and lewdly, or you willfully and lewdly caused a child to touch another person’s body, including your own; and
  • You committed the acts with the goal of arousing, gratifying or appealing to your sexual desires or the sexual desires of the child.

An attorney can emphasize the prosecutor’s inability to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.

What Is the Statute of Limitations?

The statute of limitations is the time during which someone can be prosecuted for an alleged crime. After the statute of limitations expires, the prosecution can no longer file charges against the accused. The time imposed by the statute of limitations prevents prosecutors from unfairly charging a defendant several years after an alleged crime occurred.

When setting the length of the statute of limitations for a particular crime, the legislature attempts to balance a victim’s access to the justice system versus a defendant’s ability to obtain evidence for their defense. After all, evidence diminishes over time. There is typically more evidence available to build a legal strategy soon after the crime occurs.

How the Statute of Limitations Is Actually Enforced for Child Molestation

The statute of limitations for child molestation in California depends on a lot of factors. First and foremost, if there are qualifiers that make the crime a “life” case, then there is no statute of limitations at all. In other words, someone accused of child molestation forty or fifty years after the fact (or more) can still be charged. 

What makes child molestation a life case depends on several factors. For instance, if a judge or jury convicts a defendant on charges involving more than one victim, then it is a life case and there is no statute of limitations. 

Other scenarios when child molestation does not have statute of limitations include the offense is committed with the following:

  • The use of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful injury to the victim of someone else;
  • Sexual penetration of either accused or victim’s vagina or rectum by a penis or foreign object;
  • Oral copulation; or
  • Masturbation of either the accused or the victim.

If the factors above do not exist, the statute of limitations for sexual molestation does not expire until the alleged victim turns 40 years old. However, this only applies to crimes committed on or after January 1, 2015, or for crimes that occurred prior to January 1, 2015, the statute of limitations had not expired.

For crimes prior to January 1, 2015, with an expired statute of limitations, the victim can restart the statutory period for one year after they tell police about an act of “substantial sexual conduct”, as long as they can provide independent evidence to corroborate their accusation. 

It is important for you to speak with an experienced attorney to find out which statute of limitations applies to your case.

How Do I Defend Against False Accusations of Child Molestation?

The first thing you should do after a false accusation of child molestation is contact a sex crimes defense lawyer. Your lawyer can determine whether the police are still investigating the accusations against you or the prosecutor plans to file charges.

A member of our team will discuss the accusations and alleged misconduct with the prosecuting attorney and negotiate a favorable result, if possible. Hiring a lawyer is not an admission of guilt; rather, it is a way to protect your rights and prevent a conviction for something you did not do. Important ways to protect yourself from a conviction stemming from false accusations is by:

  • Refraining from any contact whatsoever with your accuser, including not answering any phone calls, emails, or texts from your accuser or anyone associated with them;
  • Avoiding any discussions on social media about the accusations; and
  • Calling your attorney before you participate in a police interview.

Our child molestation lawyers at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, can use their expertise and resources to defend your rights. 

What to Do If You Are Falsely Accused of Child Molestation

An accusation of child molestation in California can have dire consequences. If you have been accused of child molestation, it is important to seek the advice of an attorney as soon as possible.

Because the statutes of limitations for this crime are significantly longer than those of other crimes, it is important to speak with an attorney who can help you gather evidence to support your defense.

The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, prides itself on serving the needs of criminal defendants in San Diego County with compassion and considerable expertise. Our experienced attorneys have tried over 100 jury trials and dozens of bench trials.

Additionally, attorney Kerry L. Armstrong is a criminal law specialist certified by the State Bar of California.  We offer free, confidential consultations. Call or contact us today so we can help you determine the best strategy for your case. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Our team compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers about child molestation charges. If you need more information, reach out to a member of our team.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Child Molestation Cases in California?

California passed a law eliminating the statute of limitations for serious sex crimes, including lewd or lascivious acts with a minor, for crimes that are alleged to have occurred after January 1, 2017, and crimes for which the statute of limitations that was in effect prior to January 1, 2017, has not expired as of that date. 

What Steps Should I Take If I Was Falsely Accused of Child Molestation and the Statute of Limitations in a Child Molestation Case?

The first things you need to do following false accusations of child molestation are:

  • Contact an experienced child molestation lawyer;
  • Maintain evidence to help prove your case; and
  • Stay calm while our attorneys work tirelessly on your behalf.

Contact a sex crimes attorney at The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, today to schedule an initial consultation.

Where You Can Find Our San Diego Office

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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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