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When Is Sexting Illegal in California?

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When Is Sexting Illegal in California?

Is Sexting Illegal in California?

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or images electronically, usually through text messaging on cell phones. In California, sexting can be a crime depending on the circumstances surrounding it and the age of the involved parties.

The internet has made it easier to form virtual connections and communicate electronically with others. Technological advances, not to mention an increase in virtual and remote work since 2020, have made sexting an increasingly popular activity in recent years, particularly among young people.

Despite its popularity, many are still unaware of what constitutes sexting and whether or not it is considered a criminal offense. When is sexting a crime? What are the legal penalties for a sexting conviction?

Keep reading to learn more about sexting laws, definitions, and penalties in California.

When Is Sexting a Crime in California?

Under California Penal Code §288.2, sexting is a crime that entails the exchange of sexually explicit images on a mobile device. It can occur between adults, minors, or an adult and a minor. In California, a minor is anyone under the age of 18.

Generally speaking, sexting is only legal when it occurs between consenting adults. However, sexting becomes a crime when:

  • An adult party does not consent to the distribution or sharing of sexually explicit content. This is the case regardless of whether that person is the sender or receiver of sexually suggestive materials. Such instances between adult parties can lead to additional criminal charges, such as stalking, harassment, and invasion of privacy.
  • Any of the involved parties is under 18 years old. In this case, sexting is illegal no matter what. Even if a minor expresses an agreement or willingness to exchange suggestive content with an adult, the adult party is still guilty of a crime, as minors are not legally permitted to consent to sexual activity in California.

What Are the Penalties for Sexting in California?

Sexting is considered a wobbler crime in California, meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the nature of the offense.

To determine wobbler offenses, California courts will generally evaluate the specific facts of the case and the defendant’s criminal history. If they have prior convictions, they’re more likely to be charged with a felony offense than someone without a criminal record.

Sexting as a Misdemeanor Offense

If charged with sexting as a misdemeanor offense, defendants can face the following penalties:

  • 6-12 months in jail
  • Up to a $1,000 fine
  • Misdemeanor probation

Sexting as a Felony Offense

If charged with sexting as a felony offense, a conviction is punishable by the following penalties:

  • 3-5 years in prison
  • Up to a $2,000 fine
  • Felony probation
  • Mandatory sex offender registration

Sexting as a Juvenile Offense

If the crime in question occurred between two minors, the offender will likely be charged with a misdemeanor. The court is often more lenient in these cases, as a juvenile sexting offense is typically punishable by:

  • Court-ordered counseling
  • Community service
  • Probation
  • Curfews

Related Sex Crimes in California

While all sex crimes entail harsh consequences if convicted, sex crimes involving minors can be especially severe, making it all the more important to understand how criminal law in California pertains to our increasingly tech-dominated society.

Familiarizing yourself with sexting and related offenses can help you and your loved ones avoid life-altering consequences. Often, crimes like sexting can lead to accruing related charges, such as the ones listed below.

Keep reading to learn how sexting can relate or connect to other sex crimes in California.

What Is Revenge Porn?

In 2013, California criminalized nonconsensual pornography, commonly known as revenge porn. This offense is committed when an individual shares or distributes sexually explicit photos and/or videos of someone without their consent for the purpose of getting even (“revenge”).

Below are other common sex crimes involving a minor in California:

  • Child sexual abuse materials (CSAM). Formerly known as child pornography, it’s illegal to possess, disseminate, or produce sexually explicit materials of a minor in California. This crime is a wobbler offense detailed in California Penal Code §311.
  • Statutory rape. Under California Penal Code §261.5, it’s a crime to have sexual relations with any person under the age of 18 who is not your spouse.
  • Child molestation. Under California Penal Code §647.6, it’s a crime to annoy or molest a minor. “Annoy” and “molest” refer to conduct that is either motivated by a sexual interest in the child or likely to disturb, irritate, or be observed by a child.

Revenge porn, child pornography, and other aforementioned charges often go hand in hand with sexting. It’s essential to understand that overlooking potential relations between various sex crimes can lead to drastically enhanced penalties if convicted.

For example, consider a relationship between two teenagers aged 16 and 18. Both teenagers willingly engaged in sexting throughout their long-term relationship. However, when the younger person decides to end the partnership, the older partner gets angry, leading them to post a sexually explicit photograph of their ex to “get back” at them.

In this scenario, because the younger partner was a minor for the duration of the relationship, the 18-year-old partner can likely be charged with the following crimes:

  • Sexting
  • Nonconsensual pornography
  • Child pornography

Choose a Nationally Recognized Criminal Defense Lawyer

While the U.S. justice system is designed to protect, no manmade system is without its flaws. At the Law Office of Nabiel C. Ahmed, we understand how surreal and terrifying it can be to find yourself on the wrong side of the law, especially if you didn’t intend any harm.

Unlike other firms, our exceptional attorneys exclusively practice criminal defense. Our in-depth knowledge of criminal law in California gives us an edge in the courtroom. With over a decade of experience, we’re well-equipped to provide you with the aggressive defense you deserve in court.

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Oakland, it’s imperative to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to avoid life-changing consequences. Call (510) 907-6600 to schedule a consultation