California Child Pornography Penalties

California Child Pornography Penalties

California’s child pornography laws protect underage children from exploitation in pornographic materials and the courts impose harsh penalties upon those found guilty of producing, possessing, transporting, distributing or selling pornography depicting minors under the age of 18. Under California law, an arrest for a child pornography-related offense can result in misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the specific facts of the case, and if you are found guilty of this crime, you could end up serving up to eight years in California state prison and paying up to $100,000 in fines for a felony offense. Unfortunately, the repercussions of a child pornography conviction can remain long after you have served your sentence, affecting virtually every aspect of your life, from your career to your family relationships to your standing in the community. If you have been arrested for child pornography in California, do not hesitate to seek qualified legal help. Contact our knowledgeable California criminal defense attorneys at Sevens Legal Criminal Lawyers as soon as possible.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony Child Pornography

Child pornography is one of the most commonly charged sex crimes in the state of California, and prosecutors are highly motivated to punish convicted offenders to the highest extent that the law allows. That being said, most California child pornography offenses are wobblers, meaning the prosecutor can elect to charge the defendant with either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the specific facts of the case. When deciding whether to try a child pornography case as a misdemeanor or felony, the prosecutor will consider a number of factors, including the nature and gravity of the offense and the defendant’s criminal record. The following are some examples of elements that, if present, could result in felony child pornography charges:

  • The pornography material is “obscene.” Under California law, “obscene” pornographic matter means matter that depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way and that lacks serious artistic, literary, political or scientific value (Penal Code § 311(a) PC),
  • The defendant attempted to show the pornographic material to a minor under the age of 18,
  • The defendant attempted to trade the pornographic material commercially, and/or
  • The defendant has a prior conviction for child pornography.

Jail or Prison Time and Fines

If prosecuted as a misdemeanor offense, the maximum penalty for a child pornography conviction in California is one year in county jail and $2,500 in fines. If the crime is prosecuted as a felony, however, the possible penalties become far more severe. The state prison sentence for a felony child pornography conviction in California ranges from 16 months to eight years and the associated fines can reach as high as $100,000. If you are facing multiple counts of child pornography possession or distribution, these criminal penalties can quickly add up.

Sex Offender Registration

A conviction for any child pornography offense in California comes with a sex offender registration requirement. What that means is, if you are found guilty of a child pornography crime, you will have to register as a convicted sex offender with the state of California and keep local law enforcement agencies apprised of your location and status for a period of several years or possibly even for the rest of your life. Even the lowest level conviction for possession of child pornography requires mandatory registration as a “tier one” sex offender for a minimum of 10 years. Most other violations of California Penal Code § 311 PC require mandatory registration as a “tier three” sex offender for life.

California’s sex offender registry is accessible to the public and anyone who searches the registry will see your conviction, including any potential employers or landlords who run a background check on you. There is, however, a new law that goes into effect in 2021, which would allow tier one and tier two registrants who meet the mandatory minimum registration requirements to petition the court for termination of their California sex offender registration requirements. It would also allow those required to register as tier three offenders based solely on their risk level to petition the court for termination of their registration requirements after 20 years.

Immigration Consequences

In addition to serving time in jail or prison, paying substantial fines and being required to register as a sex offender, there are other serious adverse consequences that may result from a child pornography conviction in California. United States immigration law states that certain kinds of criminal convictions can lead to a non-citizen being deported or marked as “inadmissible,” including crimes of mortal turpitude. If you are convicted of a child pornography offense in California, you could face these negative immigration consequences.

Firearm Restrictions

California law prohibits convicted felons from owning or possessing a firearm. So, if you have been charged with a felony child pornography offense and you are convicted of the crime, you will lose your right to own or possess a firearm.

Am I Eligible for Expungement?

Having a child pornography charge on your criminal record can make your life incredibly difficult. An expungement in California allows a defendant to withdraw any plea of guilty or no contest, reenter a plea of not guilty and dismiss the case. Or, if the defendant was convicted after a plea of not guilty, an expungement permits the court to set aside the guilty verdict. If granted, an expungement releases a defendant from the negative consequences of a criminal conviction, effectively clearing his or her record. Another benefit of an expunged conviction is that it does not have to be disclosed to potential employers. Unfortunately, while some California criminal defendants may be eligible for expungement if they successfully complete probation or complete a jail term, most sex crime convictions involving a minor cannot be expunged, including violations of California Penal Code § 311 (child pornography).

Even if you are not eligible for expungement under California law, there may be other options for relief available to you following a child pornography conviction. For instance, you may be able to petition the court for a Certificate of Rehabilitation under Penal Code § 4852. While a Certificate of Rehabilitation does not remove the conviction from your criminal record, it does demonstrate that you have been rehabilitated since your conviction. In fact, in California, obtaining a Certificate of Rehabilitation serves as an automatic application for a governor’s pardon. Even with a Certificate of Rehabilitation, the child pornography conviction will still show up on a background check, but it lets potential employers, state licensing agencies or anyone else who runs a background check on you know that you are now a law-abiding citizen.

Defense Against California Child Pornography Charges

California prosecutors and law enforcement officials take child pornography offenses extremely seriously, and if you have been accused of committing a child pornography-related offense, like child pornography possession or hiring or recruiting a minor for child pornography, your entire future hangs in the balance. Because of the severe penalties that accompany a child pornography conviction, it is always a good idea to contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney when facing California child pornography charges, no matter how unsubstantiated the charges may be. A good defense attorney will thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest, carefully review the details of your case and negotiate with the prosecution in an attempt to get the charges reduced to a lesser offense or possibly even dismissed altogether.

If your child pornography case goes to trial, an experienced attorney will be able to understand exactly what is at stake and will devise a compelling defense that maximizes your chances of success in beating the charges and avoiding a conviction. Remember that in any criminal case, it is up to the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If your defense attorney can introduce evidence and/or testimony that raises reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors that you are guilty of the crime with which you are charged, he or she can significantly improve your chances of securing an acquittal at trial.

Contact Our California Criminal Defense Attorneys Today

Because child pornography crimes involve the exploitation of children, the penalties associated with a child pornography conviction and the collateral consequences convicted offenders face can be incredibly severe. Even a wrongful child pornography charge can ruin your reputation, destroy your personal and professional relationships, and negatively impact future employment, housing and higher education opportunities, among other negative consequences. Today, the Internet makes it incredibly easy to access pornography, including illegal pornographic material depicting minors, and many people are not aware of the illegal nature of the pornography they are viewing or downloading. In some cases, illegal child pornography may be downloaded onto a person’s computer without their knowledge, either as a virus or by another user, which could unexpectedly expose innocent individuals to the severe consequences of a child pornography criminal charge. If you or someone you know has been charged with a child pornography-related offense, do not wait to seek legal help. Contact our San Diego Child Pornography defense lawyer today to speak to our trusted and trial-tested criminal defense lawyers about your case.