An 18-year-old man has recently been arrested on 1 count of making criminal threats and 1 count of distributing pornographic materials to minors. Local law enforcement agents received an anonymous tip in conjunction with the case in which an eyewitness claims to have seen the teen threatening to sexually assault and harm several young males in the area. A search of his residence yielded evidence of sexually inappropriate text messages sent to minor children.
Distribution of pornographic materials is not illegal in and of itself, unless those images are given to a person under the age of 18. Then, it becomes a crime. According to the California Penal Code 647.6 (often referred to as ‘annoying or molesting a child’), any person who behaves in such a way that is sexually motivated and irritating or disturbing toward a minor child.
Interestingly, just as in the case above, a person need not actually touch a child in order to be in violation of this particular section of the law. In fact, even speaking lewdly to a child could be considered illegal by the definition given here. In sum, any lewd behavior towards a minor could be considered a crime under this broad definition.
Normally, cases such as the one above are treated as misdemeanors and a conviction could mean up to 1 year in county jail and a $5,000 fine. However, in some circumstances, namely if the crime has been committed after the perpetrator entered a residence without the resident’s consent, it becomes a California “wobbler;” this means that it is up to the prosecutors involved in the case to determine, dependent upon the specific facts of each case, whether they will treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony. If convicted of a misdemeanor charge of annoying or molesting a child in an inhabited dwelling, an individual may expect to spend the same amount of time in jail as listed above. However, if prosecutors determine that the case will be treated as a felony, then the penalties rise to 1 year in state prison. There are further, and harsher, penalties if you have a prior conviction for the same crime. Additionally, this crime will automatically be treated as a felony if you have a prior felony conviction for other violent sex offenses, such as the rape of a minor under the age of 16 (CA PC 261), lewd acts with a child (CA PC 288.5), or continuous sexual abuse of a child (CA PC 288).