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Incest – California Penal Code Section 285

incest laws in California

Incest is a sexual relationship between people who are closely related by blood. Incest is illegal in most countries, including the United States. The laws on incest vary from state to state, with some states having stricter definitions of who is not allowed to marry or have a sexual relationship, and harsher punishment for those found guilty of incest.

California’s incest laws are not as strict as some other states, though it is a serious crime to have sexual relations with a close blood relative in California.

California incest laws prohibit sexual intercourse between family members.
California incest laws prohibit any sexual intercourse between family members.

Under Family Code section 2200 1, marriage between parents and children, ancestors and descendants of every degree, brothers and sisters of any degree — including half brothers and half sisters — and uncles or aunts with nieces or nephews is illegal in California.

California Penal Code section 285 2 forbids both marriage and sexual relationships between people that Family Code 2200 has declared to be too closely related by blood to marry. It states that people over 14 years of age are held accountable for the crime of incest if they have sex with a close blood relative. However, if the incestuous sex is between a minor under 18 years old and an adult, the minor is considered a victim; and the adult could also be found guilty of unlawful intercourse with a minor under PC 261.5.3

The rationale behind California’s incest laws is to avoid bearing children who may be prone to serious birth defects caused by inbreeding. 4 Sociologists contend that incest endangers traditional family structure. If parents and children, brothers and sisters, or other close family members engage in sexual acts, it would be difficult to maintain a healthy family structure.

Prosecution for Incest (Penal Code Section 285)

In order to be convicted of breaking incest laws, the prosecution must prove:

  • You had sexual intercourse with a close blood relative
  • You knew about the blood relation at the time you engaged in sex, and
  • The sex was consensual

Criminal Penalties for Incest Under PC 285

Incest is punishable in California by imprisonment for 16 months, 2, or 3 years. How you will be punished depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Your prior criminal record
  • Whether both parties were consenting adults
  • The degree of blood relationship, and
  • Other mitigating factors

Incest is considered a sex offense in California. If you are convicted of incest in California, you will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life under PC 290. 5

Defenses to California Incest Charges

An experienced attorney will be able to assess your case and come up with a defense strategy best suited to help you achieve a favorable outcome. Some defenses that our attorneys have successfully used to help our clients avoid the harsh consequences of an incest conviction include:

  • No sexual relationship: An attorney can argue that you did not actually have a sexual relationship with the other party and that you are being falsely accused of breaking incest laws.
  • Lack of knowledge of the blood relation: A crime requires the element of intent. It is possible that you met somebody and formed a sexual relationship with that person without knowing that you are closely related by blood. An experienced attorney can help you prove that you were unaware of your relation to the other person and that you stopped your relationship once you became aware of this knowledge.

    Defenses to an incest charge
    Our attorneys will vigorously fight for you if you are charged with incest.
  • You did not consent: Your skilled lawyer can help you prove that the sex was forced or coerced by the other party. Many cases of incest are non-consensual for one party.
  • GSA Syndrome 6: Genetic Sexual Attraction has been given some credence by psychologists and behavioral therapists. It occurs when two close relatives who have been separated for a long period of time, such as brother and sister or parent and child, are reunited. According to people who suffer from GSA, there is an obsessive sexual attraction between relatives who are reunited after a long separation. If you suffer from GSA, your attorney can attempt to use this as a mitigating factor in an incest case.

FAQ: Questions Regarding California Incest Laws

Is a relationship between first cousins legal in California?

Yes, first cousins can legally marry in California, but in some states it is illegal. If you marry a first cousin in California, you should be aware that your marriage may be illegal if you move to another state.

Will teenaged siblings who have sex be tried in adult court?

No, provided the sex was consensual. Teenagers charged with non-violent crimes are adjudicated in juvenile court, and the record is sealed upon reaching adulthood. If a teenager commits a violent sex crime such as rape, the teen may be tried in adult court.

Will I be required to register as a sex offender if I am convicted of incest in California?

Yes, incest is considered a sex crime, meaning lifetime registration as a sex offender is required if you are convicted of this crime.

Call Wallin & Klarich Today if You Have Been Charged with Incest

If you or a loved one is facing charges of incest, it is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. If you are convicted of this crime, it will affect you for the rest of your life. That is why you need a skilled criminal defense attorney who can help you plan a successful defense that will get you the best possible result in your case. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have been successfully defending our clients facing incest charges for over 30 years.

With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.


1. [http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=FAM&division=6.&title=&part=2.&chapter=1.&article= ]
2. [http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=FAM&division=6.&title=&part=2.&chapter=1.&article= ]
3. [http://scocal.stanford.edu/opinion/people-v-tobias-32177 ]
4. [http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/inbreeding.aspx ]
5. [http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&division=&title=9.&part=1.&chapter=5.5.&article=]
6. [http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2003/may/17/weekend7.weekend2]

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