June 3, 2022 By Stephen Klarich

Sexting Laws in California

What Is Sexting?  

Sexting refers to the sending of sexually explicit messages and pictures through text messaging. Due to the expansion of cell phones, social media, and online dating, sexting has risen as a relatively new type of sex crime. While sexting between two consenting adults is perfectly legal under California law, sexting can become a criminal act and result in harsh consequences in some circumstances. 

When Is Sexting a Crime?  

First and foremost, sexting is a crime when a minor is involved. Although California does not have specific laws that regulate sexting involving minors, individuals who are found to have participated in child pornography can be prosecuted under California’s general child pornography laws. According to California Penal Code Section 311, the prosecution must prove the following in order to convict you: 

  • You knowingly produced, possessed, or distributed child pornography; AND 
  • You knew that the matter depicted a person under the age of 18 years personally engaging in or simulating sexual conduct. 

Furthermore, PC Section 288.2 criminalizes sending harmful material with intent to seduce a minor. To be convicted under this section, the prosecution must prove: 

  • You knowingly distributed, sent, or exhibited any harmful matter that depicts a minor or minors engaging in sexual conduct;
  • You knew or should have known that the recipient was a minor; 
  • You intended to arouse the sexual desires of yourself or of the minor; AND 
  • You intended to engage in sexual activity with the minor. 

Sexting can also be charged as a crime if a person does not consent to the sexually explicit messages. If one person continues to send non-consensual sexual messages to another, this could be charged as harassment. Harassment is defined under PC Section 646.9 as “engaging in a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.” 

Penalties for Illegal Sexting 

When done illegally, sexting can result in significant changes. In California, child pornography is termed to be a “wobbler” offense, meaning the charge can be either a felony or misdemeanor. If you are convicted under PC Section 311, depending on the type of offense and your criminal history, you may face: 

  • Up to $100,000 in fines 
  • Up to 8 years in state prison 
  • Registration in the Sex Offender Registry for life 

Similarly, sending harmful matter to a minor is also a wobbler. If prosecutors seek to convict you under PC Section 288.2, you may face: 

  • Up to $10,000 in fines 
  • Up to 5 years in state prison 
  • Registration in the Sex Offender Registry for life 

In addition to hefty fines and jail time, lifetime sex offender registration can jeopardize your personal and professional life. Even if you are not found guilty, the mere accusation of inappropriate sexual conduct could affect your employment, reputation, and relationships. To clear your name and prevent these charges from ruining your future, consult with our experts at Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible. 

Can Minors Be Charged? 

In most circumstances, minors accused of non-violent offenses can have their cases tried in juvenile court. Instead of punishing such individuals, the juvenile court system is supposed to educate and counsel them. Some common disciplinary actions for minors who are found guilty of child pornography include: 

  • Counseling 
  • Community service 
  • Suspension from school 
  • Seizure of cell phone 

Although the penalties for minors are generally less severe than those for adult convictions, a minor could still face felony charges. In these cases, your child would serve detention in a juvenile hall with a transfer to county jail upon turning 18 and be required to register as a sex offender upon release. 

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today 

If you are charged with a sexting crime, you need an experienced defense team to represent you. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich is your best choice amongst Southern California criminal defense firms. Our attorneys have helped thousands of clients with sex-related crimes, and we can help you, too. We know that these can be tough cases, but we always keep your best interests in mind. Because sex-related crimes can be difficult to talk about, we make sure to maintain a comfortable and judgment-free environment for open, honest discussions. You can place your trust in us. 

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Torrance, West Covina, Los Angeles, and San Diego, you are sure to find an available and convenient attorney near you. 

Discover how our team can assist you. Contact us today, toll-free at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney.

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