“Sexting” can mean different things to different people. In general terms, sexting is exchanging sexually explicit pictures, videos and images via text, email, webcam or other electronic applications and devices.
These interactions are typically legal if they occur between consenting adults. But sexting is a crime when it involves minors, and offenders can face significant jail time and other penalties. Two sections of the state’s Penal Code specifically address these offenses when content involves children.
Penal Code 288
Under PC 288, it is illegal to send electronic messages to persons under 18 for the sexual gratification of either party. Examples include an adult who interacts with a minor by exchanging:
- Pornographic video
- Sexually explicit images
- Texts containing suggestive or sexual content
Sexting is also illegal between two or more minors.
Penal Code 311
Adults who possess sexually explicit images or videos of minors can also face child pornography charges under PC 311. Saving videos or photos sent by someone else is illegal. The law defines child pornography as obscene content depicting children engaged in sexual conduct or showing their private parts.
Prosecutors can charge people who send or receive sexually explicit material of children. Defendants accused of interacting with minors by sexting are often charged under this statute. In some cases, federal charges may also apply for material exchanged over the internet.
Stalking charges can result for sexting between adults
California law also addresses instances when an adult receives unwanted sexts from another person. People who send sexual content intending to harass, threaten or annoy another adult can face stalking charges under PC 646. Obscene phone calls are also addressed under PC 653.
Penalties for sexting with a minor
Penalties can be severe and largely depend upon the statute prosecutors use. Sexting is a “wobbler,” meaning it can be a misdemeanor or felony. Those convicted of a misdemeanor can face up to one year in county jail compared to five years in prison for a felony under PC 288 and 311. Those convicted must also register as sex offenders.
If the police contact you under suspicion of sexting with a minor, immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney before answering their questions. A knowledgeable lawyer with expertise in federal and state sex crime cases can identify flaws in an investigation and help you avoid charges or a conviction or reduce penalties.