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California Sex Offenses and Why They are Different?

Sex offenses are considered crimes against the person. Most sex offenses are classified as felonies, the most severe types of offenses. Like all felony crimes, sex offenses attract strict penalties and collateral consequences. Records of sex offenses can rarely, if ever, be expunged or sealed. In California, sex offenses are classified by the criminal justice system as either felony or misdemeanor crimes. Applicable penalties differ for each category of offense, and persons convicted of certain sex offenses are required to register as sex offenders.

What is a California Sex Crime?

In California, sex crimes are acts of sexual assault or violation highlighted in Ca. Pen. Code § 261. Sex offenses are classified by severity and by the presence of mitigating or aggravating factors. Examples of these factors include the perpetrator's age compared to the victim's, the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim, and other factors that may impair the victim's ability to consent. Such factors include unconsciousness, duress, or deceit.

According to the law, minors cannot provide consent to sexual activity; therefore, acts of sexual assault or violence against children are considered serious offenses. California state law defines a minor as any person under the age of 18. For example, unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor can either be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the ages of the persons involved.

What are the Different Types of Sex Offenses?

Types of sex offenses include:

  • Rape: This is an act of non-consensual intercourse performed with a person who is not the perpetrator's spouse. California state laws categorize all non-consensual sexual assault as rape (Ca. Pen. Code § 263.1); however, rape is classified by several factors. These include the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim, the age of the victim, and the presence of other factors that may impair the ability to give consent. Any degree of sexual penetration is enough to be considered rape. Examples of rape include:
    • Spousal rape: non-consensual sexual acts performed on the perpetrator's spouse (Ca. Pen. Code § 262).
    • Statutory rape: acts of sexual assault or intercourse with a minor (Ca. Pen. Code § 261.5).
    • Forcible rape: acts of non-consensual assault against a person who is not the perpetrator's spouse (Ca. Pen. Code § 261).

The type of rape determines the applicable penalty. Probation, fines, or restitution may punish spousal rape. Statutory rape is punishable by a term in state prison of up to 13 years. Forcible rape is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years.

  • Prostitution or soliciting: Acts such as engaging in or soliciting prostitution Ca. Pen. Code § 647, pandering Ca. Pen. Code § 266i, soliciting a minor, Ca. Pen. Code § 261.9, and pimping Ca. Pen. Code § 266h are sex offenses punishable by fines of up to $25,000 and imprisonment for up to eight years.
  • Sexual battery: non-consensual sexual contact with another person while the person is restrained, unconscious, or institutionalized  Ca. Pen. Code § 243.4. Sexual battery may be punished by prison terms of up to four years and fines of up to $10,000.
  • Failure to register as a sex offender: The California Sex Offender Registration Act mandates certain sex offenders to register. Failure to register may be punished by up to three years in state prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Other types of sex offenses in California include:

  • Lewd and lascivious acts
  • Indecent exposure
  • Child pornography
  • Annoying or molesting children
  • Sexually exploiting a minor

Sex Offender Levels of Classification in California

There are three tiers of sex offenders in California. Tier placement can be determined by the severity of the sex offense, the level of danger the offender poses to the public, and the risk of re-offense. Tier placement determines the length of time an offender is required to register in the sex offender registry. Criteria for placement are highlighted in the Sex Offender Registration Act.

  • Tier 1: offenders in this tier are those convicted of non-violent felony sex offenses and misdemeanor sex offenses. Offenders are considered to pose a lower risk of danger to the public. Such persons are required to register in the California Sex and Arson registry for ten years. Examples of sex offenses in this tier are indecent exposure, inducing sex by fraud, and misdemeanor sexual battery.
  • Tier 2: offenders in Tier 2 are convicted of sex crimes more severe than Tier 1 but not as severe as Tier 3. Such mid-tier offenses may include incest, annoying a child as a repeat offense, and lewd acts with a minor. Tier 2 sex offenders are required to register in the Sex and Arson Registry for 20 years.
  • Tier 3: offenders in Tier 3 pose a very high risk of danger to society and are at a greater risk of repeated offenses. Individuals are required to register in the Sex and Arson registry for the rest of their lives and may not petition the court for removal from the registry. Examples of offenses in this tier include pandering, rape, and aggravated sexual assault of a child.

How Do I Find A Sex Offender Near Me in California?

Ca. Pen. Code § 290.46 allows the Department of Justice to make information about registered sex offenders available to the public. This law is also known as Megan's Law, and it was established to protect the public by making information about sex offenders in each neighborhood available. The California Sex and Arson Registry provides information about sex offenders statewide. Information about eligible sex offenders is maintained on the Megan's Law website. Interested persons may also use third-party search tools and websites to find sex offenders in particular zip codes or zones.

California Sex Offender Registry

As part of the Sex Offender Registration Act, Ca. Pen. Code § 290.015 requires persons convicted of certain sex offenses to register in the California Sex and Arson Registry. Such persons must write and sign a statement that includes the name and address of the person's employer or employment place. They must also provide other information as required by the Department of Justice. Information made available through the sex offender registry may include:

  • Name
  • A current photograph
  • Physical description
  • Gender
  • Race
  • License plate number
  • Date of birth
  • Criminal history
  • Email address
  • Residential community or zip code

Sex offenders are required to update and verify the information provided every year. If such persons change their addresses, they are required to register their new address within ten days.

The California Department of Justice makes sex offender information available through Megan's law website. It features a simple search functionality that can be used to search sex offenders by name or address. Individuals required to register as sex offenders may not use the Megan's Law website's search functionality. Offenders may be imprisoned for up to six months in county jail, required to pay fines of up to $1,000, or be punished by both imprisonment and fines.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

What are the Sex Offender Restrictions in California?

Apart from being required to register in the California Sex and Arson Registry, there are some occupational and residential restrictions on sex offenders in California (Ca. Pen. Code § 290.95).

For example, persons required to register as sex offenders must disclose their status if they are employed or volunteer in a position where they may have direct, unsupervised access to minors. Such persons are also required to state their sex offender status to the employer or organization if required to touch minors.

Individuals convicted of sex offenses where the victim was a minor less than 16 years old may not work in settings where they would have direct, unsupervised access to or touch minors. Individuals required to register as sex offenders may not live within 2000 feet of any school or park where children gather.

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