Child molestation is a serious crime in California. Conviction can lead to long prison sentences, as well as lifetime registration as a sex offender. 

ventura criminal defense attorneyHow does the state of California handle child molestation cases?

Prosecutors can choose what charges to bring against the defendant. In cases of multiple illicit encounters between an adult and a child, prosecutors in California have the choice to charge the defendant with a separate count for each contact.

However, sometimes the child doesn’t remember all of the details for every incident. In that case, the prosecutor can charge the defendant with “Continuous sexual abuse of a child,” which is a felony punishable by up to 16 years in California State Prison.

If you or someone you love has been accused of child molestation, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. Not only could you spend a substantial portion of your life in prison, but you could experience a lifetime of disruption after release as a registered sex offender.

What is ‘Continuous sexual abuse of a child?’

In order to prove that you were guilty of “Continuous sexual abuse of a child,” a prosecutor will have to prove that you:

  1. Lived with or had access to a person under 14 years old. This means that you had a pre-existing relationship with the child before the contact took place, or were in a position of power or authority (sports coach, teacher, priest, etc.)
  2. Over the course of three months or longer, took part in at least three acts of:
    1. Substantial sexual contact. This includes masturbation, oral copulation or sexual penetration of either party.
    2. Lewd acts. This is touching of the child with the intent to sexually arouse him or her. This does not need to be overtly sexual, and the touching does not need to be on bare skin.

Penalties for continuous sexual abuse of a child

If you are convicted of ‘Continuous sexual abuse of a child’ in California, you could face sentences of:

  • 6, 12 or 16 years in California State Prison
  • Lifetime registration as a tier-three sex offender

Mandatory registration on California’s sex offender registry is often more disruptive than prison time itself. It can lead to job loss and difficulty finding work, loss of licensing if you work in a professional field, difficulty finding housing and personal stigma.

If convicted of child molestation, you will be required to register annually for the rest of your life.

What is ‘Lewd and lascivious acts with a child?’

In California, lewd and lascivious acts with a minor is defined as willfully committing a lewd or lascivious act, upon or with the body, or any part or member thereof, of a child who is under 14 years of age, with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of the person committing the act or the child (Penal Code 288PC).

Lewd act

Penal Code 288 PC defines a lewd act as either touching a child for sexual purposes or causing a child to touch someone else or themselves for sexual purposes.

Lewd acts that are typically prosecuted include overt child molestation or the touching of a child’s sexual organ, however, it is still possible to be charged with lewd acts if the touching was not of a sexual organ, the child was the one being made to touch, or the touching was done over the child’s clothing. The criminal nature of the crime is not based solely on if or where the child is touched, but on the intent and the sexual nature of the touching. 

Additionally, the touching must be done through willful action. A defendant is not guilty of violating Penal Code 288 PC if he or she did not touch the child on purpose. 

EXAMPLE 1: Dean, and adult who is babysitting his neighbor’s 10-year-old son one afternoon, touches the boy’s penis for the purpose of his own sexual arousal. Dean has committed a lewd act and is guilty of violating Penal Code 288 PC.

EXAMPLE 2: Charles, who is playing football will his 12-year old nephew in the back yard, accidentally touches the boy’s penis through his clothes during a play. Charles is not guilty of violating Penal Code 288 PC because the touch was unintentional and not done intentionally for the sake of arousal. 

Lewd acts accomplished by force or fear

Penal Code 288(b)(1) specifically addresses those lewd acts with a minor that are accomplished by any of the following means:

  • Force used to touch the child is substantially more than the touching itself. For example, hitting or slapping the child.
  • Threats that elicit fear or immediate unlawful injury to the child or another person.
  • Violence
  • Duress, which is defined as the use of a threat of force, danger, violence, or retribution.
  • Menace, defined as an act or statement that demonstrates in intent to cause someone injury or physical harm.

Lewd acts accomplished by force or fear carry greater penalties than other violations of Penal Code 288 PC.

Penalties for ‘Lewd acts with a minor’ charges

There are a number of factors that contribute to the penalties a defendant might face for charges of lewd acts with a minor, including the child’s age, whether the acts were done under force, duress, or by threats, or whether the act is part of a pattern of abuse. Below are penalties based on particular circumstances of the offense.

Lewd acts with a child under 14

  • 3, 6, or 8 years in California State Prison
  • A fine of up to $10,00
  • Felony probation

Lewd acts and use of force with a child under 14

  • 5, 8, or 10 years in California State Prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Bodily harm inflicted due to lewd acts with a child under 14

  • Possibility of life in prison

Lewd acts with a child who is 14 or 15 and more than 10 years younger than the defendant

  • 1, 2, or 3 years in California State Prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000


  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

Lewd acts with a child who is 16 or 17

Because Penal Code 288 PC primarily deals with minors of 14 years of age and younger, lewd acts with minors ages 16 and 17 are most often prosecuted as either statutory rape or sexual battery.

Lewd acts with use of force and the defendant is the child’s caretaker

  • 5, 8, or 10 years in California State Prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Habitual sex offender

If the defendant has been convicted of multiple related offenses, he or she may be sentenced with 25 years to life in California State Prison.

California sex offender registration

Under California law, anyone who is convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor must register as a sex offender for life. Beginning January 1, 2021, however, a change in the laws regarding sex offender registration will go into effect. The new system places offenders into one of 3 tiers, each with a minimum registration period meant to correspond with the severity of the crime. As of January 1, 2021, the minimum registration period for each tier will be:

  • Tier 1: 10 years
  • Tier 2: 20 years
  • Tier 3: Life

For those convicted of violating Penal Code 288 PC, a first-time offender will be placed in tier 2. Anyone convicted of a lewd act by force or fear or who has multiple strikes under California’s three strikes law may be subject to tier 3 registration for life.

How do I fight child molestation charges?

“This man is a very effective criminal defense attorney. I was charged but I never had to go to court because the case was thrown out thanks to his efforts. I was very worried because I didn’t know anyone who could confirm my location, but he was able to prove that I was innocent.”
Jason, CA

If you have been accused of child molestation, this can be a frightening and anxious time.

Working with a criminal defense attorney who specializes in sex crimes cases can help ease that fear. An attorney knows the evidence that the prosecution has to bring against you, and he can carefully dissect the prosecution’s case to see your charges reduced or dropped.

People’s personal recollections are faulty, and false accusations are common in cases of crimes against children.

A skilled criminal defense attorney will be your best advocate and can help you defend your freedom. Attorney Robert M. Helfend has been defending sex crimes cases in the Ventura area since 1984 and is prepared to take your case. Call today for your free case evaluation — 805-273-5611.