Annoying or molesting a child under 18 is a severe crime in California. The offense is described and punished under California Penal Code Section 647.6. It involves an adult directing sexual behavior or language to a child or children in general. You might face these charges even when you did not engage in sexual conduct with the child.
A conviction for the offense may drastically change your life. Therefore, if you face allegations for this crime, don’t take them lightly or even plan to fight the charges alone. A competent criminal attorney is highly preferable for a positive outcome of the case.
At Darwish Law, our attorneys are well-trained and experienced in handling sex crimes. We have helped numerous clients facing sex crimes in Santa Ana, CA, have their charges dropped or lowered. So, don’t hesitate to contact us immediately after your arrest.
The Legal Meaning of Annoying or Molesting a Child Under 18
Under California PC 647.6, it outlines the offense of molesting or annoying a child under 18 while driven by the sexual desires of the child. The crime is usually known as child molestation, while annoying means either to:
- Engage in behavior likely to irritate or disturb a child OR
- Engage in conduct driven by sexual desire in the minor.
Note, the law doesn't require you to engage in the actual touching of the child, but the words you use are enough evidence for you to face conviction for the crime. The crime is a wobbler, and it can either be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor.
- Conduct Motivated by Sexual Desire in a Minor
The law will only punish the behaviors driven by abnormal or unnatural sexual interest in a child. You may face conviction for the crime if you attempt or commit a behavior to coax the child into the sexual act. Note that PC 647.6 doesn't punish any other behaviors driven by anything else apart from sexual interest. Also, you will not face the charges when you did not intend to engage in the crime.
The prosecution team must prove your behavior was driven by a sexual desire in a child, usually through two ways. First, the prosecutor will provide evidence of a prior act towards a child. Then they will present circumstantial evidence surrounding the behavior. Thus, you need to seek legal help from an aggressive criminal defense attorney.
The attorney will start investigating your case right away. Then the attorney will gather enough evidence to counter the prosecutor's evidence. By doing so, the prosecutor will have a lot of pressure and thus issue a plea bargain. The prosecution team will also have a hard time proving the elements of the crime.
- Acts Likely to Irritate or Disturb a Minor
The law focuses on punishing the actions which assault the minor's sense of security and privacy. Thus, it is considered a general intent offense. So, it means that conviction for the crime doesn't necessarily require your behaviors against the child to be indecent or lewd. It will not matter whether you thought your actions were proper or appropriate. The critical thing in PC 647.6 is how society should treat children. Again, it does not matter whether your actions irritated, annoyed, or disturbed the child. The court assesses the crime using an objective test. The judge will not consider whether the child suffered injuries, but whether your behaviors would irritate, annoy or disturb an average child.
The crime is unique from other sexual crimes since it does not require any physical contact. So you may violate PC 647.6 through the use of words when they are subject to molest or annoy a normal average child. Also, other behaviors that do not result in touching the minor, like masturbation, will trigger a PC 647.6 conviction.
Lastly, the crime does not focus on a particular group of children when committing the offense. It is a crime when your behavior motivates sexual interest in children generally. Thus, seek legal advice from a competent criminal defense attorney to help you understand more about sex crimes.
Examples of California Penal Code 647.6 Violation
Example 1. Johnson and Mary are dating. One morning, Johnson is babysitting Mary's son Caleb. When watching television, Johnson asks Caleb whether he may receive oral sex. In this case, Johnson will face charges for violating PC 647.6 since his behavior is driven by a sexual desire for Caleb. Thus, it's considered disturbing the child. The question itself is enough evidence for violating the PC 647.6.
Example 2. On Monday evening, Thomas parks his vehicle in a school parking lot and then masturbates. Thomas will face a conviction for violating PC 647.6. The prosecution team might argue that the masturbation was driven out of the children since Thomas decided to do so at a school. Also, Thomas did so on a weekday when children could be present and would observe the masturbation.
Example 3. Rick's home is situated in the same location as a school. On a Thursday afternoon, Rick masturbates in his house while watching pornography on his laptop. Unfortunately, he forgot to close the curtains on his window before committing the act. Thus, students saw him masturbate as they were on their way home.
Shockingly and much disturbed, the students run and report the incident to their guardians, who call law enforcement officers right away. Under this case, Rick didn't violate PC 647.6. His actions were not driven out of the children even if they were highly disturbed. A conviction for the crime will require the behavior to meet all the elements of the crime.
Penalties for Violating California Penal Code 647.6
Violation of PC 647.6 is a wobbler, meaning you will either face a felony or misdemeanor charge based on your criminal record and the facts surrounding the case. The court will impose a felony charge when the case involves aggravating circumstances. For instance, you will face a felony charge when you enter an inhabited house to molest or annoy the child. Also, when your criminal record shows threats to children, you will face a felony charge.
Misdemeanor Punishment for a PC 647.6 Violation
If you violate PC 647.6 for the first time, you will face misdemeanor charges. But if the first-time offense has aggravating factors, you will face a felony charge. The misdemeanor charge will attract a fine not exceeding $5,000 and jail time of up to one year.
Felony Punishment for a PC 647.6 Violation
When you have a prior conviction for PC 647.6, you will automatically face a felony charge. The same will apply if you have a felony conviction for sex crimes. The sex offenses may include PC 288.5, PC 21, PC 311.4, and PC 288. When you have violated any prior conviction for one of the above laws, even when it's your first-time offense, you will face a PC 647.6 conviction. The penalties for a felony charge will attract three years imprisonment in a state jail.
Probation for a PC 647.6 Violation in California
You might serve a probation term instead of a jail term. But you will only serve probation when you do not have aggravating factors. The judge will consider the facts of the offense, whether you pose a danger to society and your criminal record. Remember, court orders cannot be modified unless there is a hearing to decide on a modification based on the victim's best interests. If you qualify for probation, the probation will depend on whether you face charges for felony or misdemeanor. Also, the court will issue an order to prevent you from coming in contact with the alleged victim.
- Misdemeanor Probation
Misdemeanor probation lasts between one and three years. If the court grants you probation, it requires you to engage in community service, pay fines, meet your counselor and show up before the judge to assess how you’re performing under the probation.
- Felony Probation
Felony probation lasts between three and five years. The probation primarily involves:
- Meeting with a probation officer.
- Paying a restitution fee.
- Meeting the conditions of the probation.
Felony probation doesn’t necessarily mean you will not serve jail time. You may end up remaining behind bars in a county jail for a year. Violating the felony probation terms may attract state imprisonment. You will also meet your mental health counselor under felony probation.
Sex Offender Registration
A conviction for a PC 647.6 will come with registration as a sex offender. In the past, if you faced a PC 647.6 conviction, you ended up facing a lifetime registration as a sex offender. Currently, the state follows a three-tier system. When you face a first-time charge, it's considered a tier-one crime. Thus you will have sex registration for a minimum of ten years. A second-time conviction is referred to as a tier two crime. The sentence will attract sex registration for a period above 20 years. Ensure that you adhere to the terms and conditions of the probation to avoid further fines and jail terms.
Fighting a PC 647.6 Charge
You may use several legal defenses to fight a PC 647.6 charge. If you hire a skilled criminal defense attorney, they will review your case and determine the best legal defense for your case. You may apply any of the following defenses to fight your charge:
- Questioning the Alleged Victim or Witness Credibility
In many molesting or annoying cases, the case becomes a “she said, he said” situation. So, the results often turn on the credibility of the witnesses and the victims. It is recommended that you have a solid defense to utilize various ways to fight the credibility of witnesses like carrying out interviews on the accuser’s family or friends and investigating social media accounts, medical records, phone calls, email, and/or text messages. By following such methods, your defense attorney may highlight facts of the alleged accuser's history of being dishonest and creating false information.
- Mistaken Identity
Mistaken identity is another legal defense you may use to fight the charge. Often, a person might be mistaken for another due to clothing or when they are identical in their looks. So, your criminal defense attorney may argue you did not commit the crime, and it is a case of mistaken identity. Then the court will consider reducing or dropping the charges.
- Utilizing Polygraph Test
Primarily, law enforcement officers and the prosecution team utilize polygraph tests. But, the law allows you to apply the tests as a defense against PC 647.6. These tests are confidential and should not be exposed to the general public. Your criminal defense attorney will reveal the results when it shows your arguments are valid and will favor your case. Thus, you may use the private polygraph test to convince the court to reduce or dismiss your charges.
- Insufficient Evidence
Even though you may face accusations for the offense, the prosecution team may lack enough evidence to support their claims. If the prosecutor has videos and photos of the defendant molesting the child, it might be used as evidence. However, if the prosecutor lacks sufficient evidence, the court will drop or reduce the charges.
- The Conduct Was Not Driven by a Sexual Desire
A California PC 647.6 requires the prosecution team to prove the behavior as driven by sexual desires in the minor. If the prosecutor fails to prove this, then you may use this defense to fight the charge. The court will then reduce or drop the charges.
- Your Civil Rights Were Violated
The violation of your rights is another critical aspect you may use to fight the charges. When law enforcement officers force you into committing an offense you never committed, the court may consider it police misconduct. You may argue that the police denied your rights to an attorney until you confessed to a crime. When the court accepts the defense, your charges will be dropped.
Other Crimes Related to California Penal Code 647.6
California PC 647.6 usually differs from other sex offenses mostly in two ways. First, a conviction for the crime doesn’t necessarily require touching the minor. You then might face conviction even when you did not intend to seduce or molest the minor. The following are the related crimes to California PC 647.6:
- Lewd Acts with Children – Penal Code 288
You may face charges for PC 288 when the prosecution team proves you touched a child to arouse or satisfy yourself sexually. The crime revolves around the act of touching the child. You might be guilty of the crime with any form of touching. The law does not limit touching to involving genitalia. Thus, you may face conviction even when you touch the child’s clothing.
When you face conviction for this crime, your punishment will vary based on the form of touching and the age of the alleged child. For instance, if the defendant utilized threats or force, the case will attract more penalties. So, based on the facts surrounding the case, you may face jail time for up to ten years in either state or county jail. Also, if you had a prior sex offense conviction, you might face a jail term for up to 25 years. The case falls under severe penalties when the victim is below 14 years, which attracts a strike under the state’s three-strikes laws.
- Contacting a Child with Intent to Carry Out a Felony – Penal Code 288.3
A conviction for PC 288.3 will attract state imprisonment. Before you face conviction for the crime, the prosecution team must prove that the defendant contacted the child intending to engage in a particular felony. The felonies may include rape, kidnapping, lewd acts, or child pornography. A conviction for the offense does not necessarily require you to have committed the crimes. The court considers whether you had the intent to commit the crime.
- Sending Hurtful Messages with an Aim to Seduce the Child – Penal Code 288.2
Both molesting a minor and PC 288.2 offenses are similar since, in both cases, the conduct is driven by sexual interest. But a PC 288.2 conviction will require the prosecution team to prove your intent of seducing the child. Also, the crime requires the defendant to send pornographic or harmful materials purposely to seduce the child.
This crime is a wobbler in California. Therefore, you will either face felony or misdemeanor charges based on your criminal record and the facts surrounding the case. A misdemeanor charge will attract probation and up to six months in county jail. You will also pay a fine not exceeding $1,000. Alternatively, a felony conviction will attract formal probation for three years; you will also pay a fine not exceeding $10,000 and face registration as a sex offender.
- The Voyeurism of a Child – Penal Code 647(j)
California PC 647(j) is also known as the “Peeping Tom” offense. The crime involves recording or spying on someone else. Before you face conviction for the offense, the prosecution team must prove you had the intent to invade someone else's privacy. The sentence for the crime is a misdemeanor and will attract a one-year jail term and a fine not exceeding $2,000.
Contact a Santa Ana Criminal Attorney Near Me
Sexual crimes against a child attract harsh penalties in Santa Ana, CA. California protects children from sexual predators. If you face charges for these crimes, you could face devastating consequences in your future. It’s recommended that you fight the accusations and avoid wrongful charges and sentences. Our attorneys at Darwish Law are here to help you. We have extensive experience in handling sex crimes in California. Call us right away at 714-887-4810, and we will start working on your case immediately.