PC 647.6 makes it a crime to annoy or sexually molest a minor below 18 years of age while motivated by abnormal or unnatural sexual interest in the minor. Child molestation is a serious charge that adversely impacts your social-economic and professional life. You risk prison time, fines, and registration as a sex offender if convicted.
It is worth noting that child protection is a top priority, and with good reason. Therefore, any act that potentially compromises a child’s safety and wellness is aggressively prosecuted. The public and the justice system are inclined to believe the victim even if the defendant is falsely accused. It is thus in your best interest to seek legal counsel as soon as possible should you or a loved one be accused of annoying or molesting a child under 18 in Anaheim. The California Criminal Lawyer Group is ready to offer legal assistance to challenge the charges.
Legal Definition of Annoying or Molesting a Child Under 18
PC 647.6’s definition of child molestation is the basis of what the prosecution will have to prove in their case against you. Understanding it is thus necessary.
Annoying and molesting are the key terms in a PC 647.6 violation. Both terms are the same for purposes of the law and refer to:
- Engaging in behavior likely to irritate or disturb a child, and
- Said behavior is motivated by a sexual interest in the minor
The behavior does not necessarily have to involve touch. Words are enough for you to be accused of a PC 647.6 violation as long as they annoy or molest a child.
Examples of actions that would be considered as annoying or molesting a child include
- Offering to perform oral sex on a 14-year-old child
- Asking a minor below 14 years old what sexual position he/she prefers
- Telling a child aged 16 years what sexual acts you would like to perform on them
A child need not express irritation or annoyance for your actions to amount to a crime. It should only be plausible that a reasonable individual would conclude your actions as disturbing or irritating to a child, given the circumstances.
Additionally, a particular minor is not required to be a target of illegal conduct. You would face PC 647.6 violation charges if your actions were directed to a group of children.
It is equally important to note that annoying or molesting a minor is a general intent crime, meaning you do not have to intend for your behavior to be obscene or lewd or that your actions have irritated the child for you to be criminally liable. The main focus is the conduct and not the result of your actions. Therefore, if it is reasonably believed that such action invades the privacy and security of a child, your actions would amount to a crime under PC 647.6.
Factors the Prosecution Must Prove to Secure a Conviction
Prosecutors must prove certain factors as accurate for the jury to find you guilty under PC 647.6. These factors are referred to as elements of the crime.
The prosecution must prove as true that:
- You engaged in behavior towards a minor who was below 18 years at the time
- A reasonable individual would have been reasonably irritated, disturbed, or offended by your behavior
- Your actions were motivated by abnormal or unnatural sexual interest in the minor
Let us look at the elements in detail.
Behavior Likely to Irritate or Disturb a Minor Below 18 Years
In determining what actions are likely to irritate or disturb a child, the courts use the following as the baseline for evaluating a defendant’s conduct.
- Actions motivated by sexual interest in a minor
- Acts that invade a child’s security and privacy
Note: It does not matter what you thought your actions meant in the eyes of the law. The effect on the child or a reasonable individual’s interpretation of your actions matters. Therefore, you could engage in acts you believe to be affectionate, but a child and a rational individual would reasonably conclude as inappropriate.
Indirect behavior like masturbation violates this statute if it is done with the intent of being seen by children or a child.
Motivated by Sexual Interest
The law seeks to punish individuals motivated to satisfy an unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in a child. However, the law does not require that the defendant intended to seduce the child. Therefore, any conduct whose motivation is anything but sexual interest does not violate PC 647.6.
Prosecutors seek to prove intent of sexual interest by presenting the following to the jury:
- Past actions directed to a child to whom you have a prior relationship, or
- Circumstantial evidence depicting your actions as sexually motivated
The absence of past actions supporting the sexual interest accusation leaves prosecutors with circumstantial evidence. This makes it difficult for them to prove their case and an opportunity your defense attorney will exploit to your advantage.
Defenses You Can Assert
Fortunately, you can fight the child molestation charges using several defenses. You must first get in touch with a credible attorney with adequate experience in sex crimes. This experience is pivotal in determining which defense strategy works best given the circumstances of the case.
Here are common defenses your attorney can use.
Good Faith Belief, the Victim, Was an Adult
You are not guilty of molesting a child if you reasonably believed the child to be above 18 years. Several situations could have made you believe the alleged victim was above 18 years. Further, a reasonable individual would have made the same conclusion given the circumstances. Here is a look at some of the scenarios.
- You met the alleged victim in a bar — Bars should only admit patrons above 18 years. It is, therefore, a reasonable assumption all individuals in the vicinity are adults
- The alleged victim or his/her close relative tells you the alleged victim is an adult
- The child has a physique and an appearance like that of an adult
- The child provided fake credentials as proof of his/her age, for example, providing a fake driver’s license
The prosecution must prove to the jury that you reasonably were aware that the alleged victim was a child beyond a reasonable doubt. A failure to do so is an opportunity for your attorney to assert that defense.
Lack of Sexual Interest
Recall that the prosecution should provide evidence supporting the assertion that your actions were born out of a sexual intention. Prosecutors achieve this by introducing into evidence past convictions or police reports of sexual-related offenses or circumstantial evidence like asking questions that are sexual.
Motive matters, and your attorney will rely on this to demonstrate to the jury that you did not have any sexual intent.
For example, you could ask a child questions of a sexual nature if you are concerned he/she is a victim of sexual abuse. While asking the questions, an eyewitness could accuse you of molesting the child without proper context.
An attorney, in this case, will prove that you reasonably believed the child was a victim of child abuse and that your line of questioning was warranted to ascertain your suspicions.
The Eyewitness Lacks Credibility
In questioning the credibility of the witness or the accuser, a defense attorney points out the inconsistent testimony and eyewitness or the accuser provides. Some cases are based on eyewitness testimony or an accuser’s version of the story and circumstantial evidence produced to corroborate his/her testimony. However, his/her testimony could be false.
An experienced attorney will target the eyewitnesses’ communication records and social media accounts to establish whether he/she has a pattern of lying or if a preexisting relationship exists between the eyewitness and the alleged victim that creates a preexisting bias. The bias and the history of falsehoods call into question the eyewitness and your accuser.
For example, an individual who has accused other people in the past of sexual offenses or inappropriateness, which were discounted, could have accused you of child molestation without grounds to do so. His/her past accusations call into question his/her present accusations against you.
Your accuser, witness, or the alleged victim could gain from your incarceration. Hence they would be willing to falsely accuse you of molesting a child to capitalize on your trial and conviction to make a case is another matter.
False accusations are especially prevalent in custody battles. Former spouses in these cases convince the children to falsely testify that their parent or guardian molested them. This is a serious accusation, one that could convince a judge in a child custody proceeding to rule against the defendant. This action could deny you the right to see your children.
In other situations, the child could be a habitual liar and falsely accuse you of sexually molesting them. Authorities will move in to protect the child's interest by arresting you and subsequently charging you with child molestation.
An experienced attorney will conduct an independent investigation to ascertain the truth. They will uncover instances of deceit and any coaching your ex-partner may have done that made your child accuse you of molesting him/her.
No Direct Conduct Towards the Victim
You are guilty of a PC 647.6 violation if you consciously or deliberately target your words or actions towards a child. Should a child accidentally observe or hear you, you are not in violation of PC 647.6. You did not intend for the child to hear your words or direct your actions toward them.
Private Polygraph Examinations
Lie detector tests are associated with police officers. However, your attorney could advise you to take one for your defense.
A hired polygrapher conducts private polygraph tests on a defendant who voluntarily elects to have the test as proof that he/she is truthful on a matter.
Defense attorneys will present the findings to the prosecution if the tests tell that you were truthful. They will then negotiate with the DA to drop the charges. However, they will be discarded if the results show you were deceptive. Confidentiality is key. Thus, the results will not be communicated to anyone else.
Note: Polygraph tests are inadmissible in court. However, they can be used to negotiate for your release.
Penalties Issued for Annoying Or Molesting A Child Under 18
Children's rights are a matter of public interest. Society goes to extreme lengths to protect children. Therefore, the harsh penalties PC 647.6 prescribes if found guilty of annoying or molesting a child should not come as a surprise.
The DA pursues annoying or molesting a child charges as either:
- Misdemeanor violations
- Wobbler offenses, or
- Felony violations
For wobbler violations, they have the discretion to seek a conviction on misdemeanor or felony charges. He/she will pursue misdemeanor violation charges if your case has no aggravating circumstances and felony charges if the circumstances are present.
Convictions on misdemeanor charges result in the following penalties:
- A one-year jail sentence or
- A fine not exceeding $5,000, or both
PC 647.6 becomes a wobbler offense if you annoy or molest a child after you enter the following premises without consent.
- A trailer coach
- An inhabited dwelling house, or
- An inhabited room of a building
Other factors additionally inform the DA’s choice of pursuing a conviction on felony charges, namely,
- Your criminal background, and
- Whether you pose a danger to other children in the community
A conviction on misdemeanor charges is punishable by:
- A one-year jail sentence or
- A fine not exceeding $5,000, or both
If convicted on felony charges, you will be punished by a prison sentence of 16 months, two or three years.
Annoying or molesting a minor becomes an outright felony violation if you have a prior conviction for the same charge. Second convictions on the same charge (PC 647.6 violations) result in three years in prison.
Further, if you have been previously convicted for a felony charge, a violation of PC 647.6, even if it is the first offense, becomes an automatic felony. The DA will consider convictions for the following offenses. The list is not exhaustive.
- Rape of a minor below 16 years of age, a PC 261 violation
- Lewd acts with a minor, a PC 288 violation
- Continuous sexual abuse of a minor, a PC 288.5 violation
- Child pornography, a PC 311.4 violation
A conviction if you have a prior felony conviction is punishable by two, four, or six years in prison.
Judges issue probation terms as an alternative to time in jail or prison. Instead of serving time in jail, a judge will issue summary or misdemeanor probation terms. If convicted on felony charges, you could be issued formal or felony probation terms instead of serving time in prison.
Is probation an option in an annoying or molesting minor case?
Yes, it is. In exercising his/her discretion, the judge will determine whether you qualify. Your attorney and the prosecution will voice their opinion about your probation eligibility. Ultimately, the judge will decide after considering certain factors, including:
- The safety of the child or other children in the community
- The circumstances of the case
- Whether you have a criminal history
Summary probations remain in effect for one to three years. In other cases, though fewer instances, judges can require convicts to serve probation terms for up to five years. Some of the common terms include but are not limited to:
- Regular appearance in court for progress reports
- Paying fines
- Paying restitution to the victim
- Completing court-mandated community service hours
- Submit to random drug testing
- Honor restraining orders issued against you, if any
- Do not violate any laws during the probation period
On the other hand, formal probation can be in place for three to five years. Some of the felony probation terms include:
- Serving up to one year in jail
- Regular meetings with your probation officer
- Paying victim restitution fees
- Submitting to random drug test
- Paying court costs
- Completing treatment program
- Honoring the restraining orders issued against you
- Not violating any laws during the probation period
It bears pointing out two pivotal issues on probation that many ignore that could result in a judge revoking your probation terms. In this case, you will serve the sentences as detailed in Penal Code 647.6 or as the judge directs. The issues are:
- Probation violation
- Violating restraining orders — Restraining orders protect the victim's interests, in this case, the child. Therefore, a judge only modifies the orders if:
- The victim requests the court to do so, and
- The court finds that a modification is warranted in the best interest of the child
Registration as a Sex Offender
Convictions for annoying or molesting minors lead to convicts registering as sex offenders.
If convicted of a PC 647.6 violation as a first offense, you fall in the tier one category, which requires you to register as a sex offender for at least ten years. Second or subsequent convictions are tier two category offenses and impose a sex registration requirement for a minimum of 20 years.
Though tier-three registration does not impact PC 647.6 violations, it is worth pointing out that it sets a lifetime registration as a sex offender. Individuals affected include those convicted of more serious sex offenses, including:
- Sex offenses against children below ten years of age
- Sex trafficking of children, and
- Repeated sex crimes
You must renew your registration annually with the local law enforcement agency within five days of your birthday and five days of moving residences.
Note: A conviction for annoying or molesting a minor requires lifetime registration as a sex offender. However, Senate Bill 384, which came into effect on January 1st, 2021, replaced the lifetime requirement with a three-tier system.
How Annoying or Molesting a Child Differs From Other Sex Crimes in California
PC 647.6 violations differ from other sex crimes in that:
- Touching is not needed for you to be criminally liable
- No intent to seduce a child is required
Note: Sexual interest refers to sexual curiosity or an attraction to another. On the other hand, seduction refers to acts where an individual entices another to have illegal sexual intercourse with them through flattery, persuasion, bribes, or promises absent any use of force or fear.
The above elements, among others, are present in the following sex crimes and distinguish annoying or molesting a child offense from the following.
Lewd Acts With a Minor, a Penal Code 288 violation
You will be criminally liable for intentionally touching a child to sexually arouse or gratify a child or yourself.
Touching a child for sexual gratification, even if through the child’s clothing, is sufficient to result in prosecution and subsequent conviction.
Note: The statute does not require you to touch the child with or the child’s sexual organ for you to be culpable.
You risk spending up to 25 years to life in prison upon conviction.
Sending Harmful Content to a Minor, Penal Code 288.2 Violation
PC 288.2 requires that you send harmful content to a child with a sexual interest for you to be convicted. Additionally, the statute requires you to seduce the child as an element to prove your guilt.
Convictions result in fines of up to $1,000, up to six months in jail for misdemeanor violations, and $10,000 in fines and up to three years in prison for felony violations.
Contacting a Minor With The Intent to Commit a Felony, a Penal Code 288.3 Violation
It is a crime to contact a minor to commit a felony, including rape, kidnapping, child pornography, and lewd acts. If found guilty, you will receive the penalties for individuals who committed said felonies.
Contact an Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Child molestation charges impose upon defendants hefty penalties upon conviction. Early intervention is key to achieving an ideal legal outcome. Every case is unique, fact-specific, and requires a tailored approach. It is thus best to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
California Criminal Lawyer Group ranks among the top defense law firms in Anaheim. We work to ensure our clients receive the best legal advice and representation. Call us today at 714-766-0965 for a free initial consultation.