California law punishes offenses involving minors very severely. Therefore, facing charges for engaging in lewd acts with a minor calls for hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney. In return, this increases the chances of a positive outcome compared to representing yourself. Additionally, the prosecutor’s main goal is to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, his/her evidential sources include a lot of details for use against you.
With the help of a competent criminal defense attorney, you can build a strong defense in preparation for the trial. Consulting Darwish Law is an excellent decision if seeking reliable criminal defense services in Santa Ana, California.
Our team includes well-experienced and highly skilled defense attorneys ready to represent you during the trial to increase the chances of a positive outcome. Additionally, we provide support and advice beyond your conviction or acquittal to create a lasting relationship.
Understanding the Nature of the Offense
Committing lewd acts with a minor is prohibited under California Penal Code Section 288. The offense involves a range of actions against a minor. A minor is any person below eighteen years of age. Additionally, the severity of consequences the guilty parties may face shifts depending on the minor’s age bracket.
Overall, the offense involves committing actions against a minor for sexual gratification or arousal. Section 288 of the penal code provides an elaborate definition of actions amounting to the offense. These actions create the elements of the crime that the prosecutor uses as a guide when presenting a case against you. The following are the elements of crime resulting in the offense of committing lewd acts with a minor:
The Deliberate Touching of a Minor’s Body Part
The main element of the crime is wilfully touching a minor’s body part, so the prosecutor needs to prove that physical touch occurred. The term willful implies that your actions were deliberate and that you intended to violate the law. Further, the prosecutor must prove that you acted by your own volition, meaning nobody instructed you to commit the lewd acts.
While most cases involve the defendant touching the minor directly, the law also accommodates alternative forms of the offense. Subsequently, you may still face arrest and conviction for indirectly participating in touching the minor’s body.
For example, you are likely to face arrest for instructing a minor to touch his/her own body, for you to gain sexual gratification or arousal from the child’s actions. The same applies when you instruct a third party to commit lewd acts, provided you maintain control over the situation.
Proving that any of these injustices occurred will require the prosecutor to source evidence from witnesses present during the commission of the crime. This includes the minor who became the victim of your actions, as he/she can provide an account of events in court. Additional sources of evidence include footage from security cameras or concerned passers-by who noticed the unusual conduct.
Further, one can also be punished for touching a minor on any other body part apart from his/her sexual organs. Traditionally, child molestation by committing lewd acts was associated with violating the child’s private parts for sexual gratification. However, developments in the law led to the inclusion of other body parts, provided you intended to gain arousal.
Judges have also ruled against perpetrators who touched the child inappropriately over the minor’s clothing. The justification is that the offender still violated the minor’s personal space, making him/her feel uncomfortable with malicious intentions. Nevertheless, the prosecutor must prove that your actions amounted to lewd behavior and were not accidental.
Your Action was Lascivious Towards the Minor
The prosecutor should also distinguish between regular body contact and lascivious or lewd behavior towards a minor. He/She should determinine what amounts to lewd conduct and abusive/predatory engagements that amount to offenses versus innocent body contact.
For example, holding a minor’s hand to help him/her does not amount to lewd conduct, as the hand contact is for safety. On the other hand, caressing the minor’s hand without any justification for holding it in the first place may be suspicious. Most activities classified as lewd behavior involve an invasion of personal space that will also impose discomfort towards the victims.
Since identifying lewd behavior may be straightforward based on body language, the investigation officers will have an easier time deriving your unlawful intentions. Nonetheless, proving intention involves analysis of the defendant’s possible mental motivations towards committing the crime. This contributes to the establishment of criminal intent, an integral part of the trial.
You Intended to Achieve Arousal or Sexual Gratification
Every criminal offense must demonstrate the physical action and the criminal intent to break the law. Subsequently, the prosecutor must prove that you intended to achieve sexual gratification from your actions and that it was not accidental physical touch nor forced actions.
Proving this element may be straightforward, especially if your body language, utterances, or facial expressions give off a sense of satisfaction. Normally, the prosecutor will rely on evidential sources to build on the case, so your lawyer can discredit the information provided. However, defending this element of the crime can be challenging if the prosecutor’s sources of proof are credible enough to persuade the judge.
You Used Force or Fear Tactics to Commit the Crime
The last element does not apply to all cases but is relevant because most perpetrators subject the minors to force or coercion. If your offense included this crime element, you risk facing a ‘three-strike’’ status on your record. This is a serious offense classification, as your chances of facing enhanced penalties for subsequent offenses increases.
Section 288(b)(l) provides for the specific offense of committing lewd acts on a minor using forceful means. If further elaborates on actions amounting to force to include:
Committing Violence against a Minor
Hitting or throwing items at the minor to force him/her into agreeing to the lewd behavior is a serious offense that increases your chances of receiving a sentence enhancement. The consequences are worse if the violence resulted in serious injuries requiring immediate medical attention.
Using Duress against the Minor
Similar to threatening the child, you may have also convinced him/her into lewd conduct by using pressure. The situation often arises where the perpetrator is significantly older and bigger than the minor, leading to compliance by duress.
Threatening to Harm the Child
Additionally, inflicting fear by threatening the child amounts to force, as the minor cannot respond to your demands out of free will. The judge will note this information down as your case presents itself and may use the circumstances to increase your sentence if found guilty.
Since you will face a criminal trial, the prosecutor acts on behalf of the aggrieved party and therefore holds the burden of proof. Subsequently, he/she aims to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order for the judge to find you guilty. To do this, the prosecutor relies on the evidence gathered by the investigation officers assigned to your case. Additionally, testamentary evidence from witnesses is a crucial source of evidence for the prosecutor.
Conversely, since the burden of proof is strict, the prosecutor should prove your involvement in each element of the crime before you face conviction. This means that your attorney can present counterclaims and defenses in your favor to discredit the prosecutor’s allegations. If the judge finds your defense credible, you may face complete acquittal or at least a reduction of the charge.
Penalties for Engaging in Lewd Acts with a Minor
The legal consequences of committing lewd acts with a minor vary based on several factors discussed below. Under Section 288 of the Penal Code, the crime amounts to a felony and attracts serious outcomes for defendants found guilty. The main penalties issued are:
- A sentence of 3, 6, or 8 years in state prison.
- Compliance with mandatory sex offender registration.
- A fine of up to $10,000.
- Restitution to the minor’s family as directed by the judge.
A jury will provide the verdict based on the case presentations from the prosecutor and the defense attorney in a typical criminal trial. After issuing a guilty verdict, the judge takes on the responsibility of sentencing you according to the policies available on convicting parties.
Subsequently, the judge reads out the issued penalties in a separate session called the sentencing hearing. In the meantime, you remain in custody until the sentencing hearing is concluded. You should note that the judge has the discretion to enhance or reduce your sentence, depending on aggravating or mitigating factors present in your case. Thus, learning of the factors that could worsen the case outcome is important to help you prepare for the oncoming hearing.
Aggravating Factors Leading to Additional Penalties
Most criminal offenses involve aggravating factors that lead to serious consequences for the victim. Subsequently, your penalties will also worsen for committing the crime in an aggravated form compared to the regular elements. The following are common aggravating factors in committing lewd acts with a minor:
You Used Force and It Resulted in Injuries
Using force to coerce the minor into committing lewd acts with you will increase the chances of a penalty enhancement. The reason for this is the power imbalance between you and the minor, as he/she is likely to give in out of fear. Moreover, coercing the child using force may result in injuries that threaten the child’s wellbeing. Due to this, you may be ordered to pay restitution to the minor’s family on top of paying the court fines.
Since the element of fear is subjective, the judge will consider the child’s reaction to the force you imposed when making him/her give in to your demands. For example, the prosecutor may ask the child to describe how he/she felt after you used violence or threats against him/her.
If the judge determines that the child had reasonable fear based on your forceful actions, you will face a penalty. For example, brandishing a weapon or threatening to use a weapon against the child is a serious aggravating factor. Similarly, if evidence reveals that you used fear to manipulate the minor even when the threats you gave were impossible to execute, you will also face an enhanced sentence. This often applies when you threaten to harm the child’s family even though the minor is a stranger to you.
The Minor Was Under 14 Years
Violating a minor younger than fourteen years attracts higher penalties compared to offenses involving children above fourteen. The effects caused on the child’s physical and mental health at a younger age are likely to cause lasting effects through his/her childhood. As punishment for the lasting effects of abuse, perpetrators will often face harsher penalties.
Circumstances Surrounding the Lewd Behavior
Lastly, the jury will consider the circumstances surrounding your lascivious acts against the minor. For example, they may be interested in learning the specific body part you touched before weighing in on your criminal intent. Naturally, cases involving touching the minor’s private parts attract more concern than those involving stroking the child’s arms, hair, or back.
Consequently, offenders whose actions violate the child’s private parts lead to higher penalties based on the trauma imposed. However, the crime attracts serious consequences regardless of touching other body parts.
Applicable Defenses to the Offense
After the prosecutor presents his/her case, including evidence and arguments building up the issues raised against you, your defense lawyer will have the chance to present defenses. They serve as counter-arguments to discredit, question or expose weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case.
In return, this will reduce the chances of the judge accepting the prosecutor’s presentation as having proved your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Additionally, presenting well-prepared defenses will lead to acquittal or penalty reductions to your benefit. Some defenses relevant to this offense include:
You Touched the Minor Accidentally
If you accidentally touched the minor and had the action taken out of context, your attorney can present details that demonstrate your innocence. This will ultimately lead to the revocation of the prosecutor’s claim that you had an intention to achieve arousal from touching the minor.
However, presenting this defense requires you to prepare adequately and to provide detailed descriptions of what happened. Having a few witnesses to provide testimonies is also useful, as it builds your credibility. For example, if you touch the minor believing him/her to be someone else because of poor lighting or a slightly crowded area, you can successfully raise the defense.
The Minor Gave a False Account of Events
Although children are often innocent and have no reason to lie, some may be manipulated into giving false evidence under a third party’s instructions. The occurrence is common if you have a conflicting relationship with a person, and he/she is determined to seek vengeance or create frustrations in your life.
Since raising this defense also involves accusing a third party of a serious offense, your lawyer should gather all the necessary information to create awareness and request further investigations on the suspected child manipulator. Nonetheless, some children may also choose to lie without external influence, but it often indicates an underlying problem.
Thus, your attorney can provide details regarding the child’s inconsistent testimonies and insufficient sources of proof for conviction. Further, he/she may request that the judge order interviews with the minor’s parents, siblings, teachers, and friends to inquire about the minor’s mental health.
Your Identity is Mistaken
Cases involving defendants who were mistakenly arrested are also common. Hence, you may fall victim to another person’s offenses based on similarities in your physical appearance, voice, or other features that identify the perpetrator. However, presenting this defense will only help you avoid penalties if the offender is traced and detained.
The requirement applies to prevent guilty parties from escaping legal consequences without proof of the mistaken identity. Nevertheless, the situation may be frustrating for you because catching the real perpetrator may take some time. Often, you will have to remain detained during this period until the court decides on the integrity of your defense.
Contact a Santa Ana Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When your future, reputation, and source of livelihood are at risk due to criminal accusation, you need to act fast. The best way to improve the chances of securing a satisfactory case outcome is by partnering up with a reliable criminal defense lawyer. Thanks to the legal advice and representation you receive, you can defend yourself and fight the prosecution's evidence against you.
When you choose Darwish Law to handle your case, expect to work with competent defense attorneys. Our wealth of experience in handling criminal cases makes us well equipped to adequately handle your matter and counter the prosecutor’s accusations. We also believe in providing personalized legal services for each client, as cases differ depending on unique circumstances. Therefore, you can count on us for hands-on engagement, research, and court representation. For more information, reach us today at 714-887-4810 if facing charges involving lewd acts with a minor in Santa Ana, California.