What is the Statute of Limitations for Child Molestation Charges?
Being accused of a sex crime can be a very emotionally difficult experience. The legal process is complicated, and the penalties you face if convicted are harsh and long-lasting. That is why California law attempts to protect people from false accusations.
What is the statute of limitations?
If there’s a lack of evidence against you, formal charges will not likely be filed. In addition to these safeguards, there is a statute of limitations on filing charges for crimes in California.
A statute of limitations is essentially a time limit on when criminal charges can be filed against you for a crime. This time limit exists because evidence, including the recollection of witnesses and the parties involved, deteriorates over time.
The statute of limitations varies for each crime. However, charges for child molestations have considerably longer periods compared to other criminal offenses, making it possible to be charged years after the alleged incident has occurred. Fortunately, by retaining a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, you can maximize your chances of success in your case.
With over three decades of experience in successfully defending clients who have gone through this terrifying situation throughout Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, the lawyers at Wallin & Klarich can help you as well. We have made it our goal to help you understand how the statute of limitations functions for child molestation, and why you should be aware of it.
How Does California Law Define Child Molestation? (PC 288)
Child molestation crimes are covered under California Penal Code Section 288. Under PC 288, it is unlawful to touch a child younger than 14 years of age on his or her body in a sexual manner.
The alleged contact does not have to be with a sexual organ or on the bare skin of the child in order to find you guilty of this crime. Touching a child in any sexual nature, including through the child’s clothing, can result in a criminal conviction. The full elements of this crime include:
You purposefully touched a child’s body either on the bare skin or through the clothing, OR
- You purposefully caused the child to touch his or her own body, your body or someone else’s body, either on the bare skin or through clothing, AND
- You “committed the act with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust, passions, or sexual desires of yourself or of the child,” AND
- The child was under the age of 14 at the time of the incident
How the Statute of Limitations is Actually Enforced for Child Molestation PC 288
Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor Child (PC 288) is a very serious offense, and there is typically a very long period in which such charges can be filed and determining the proper time frame is getting more and more difficult.
Under recent legislation, certain violations of PC 288 have no statute of limitations (i.e., the case can be filed at any time). Thus, the law has made PC 288 in certain cases the equivalent of murder. This rule applies to a violation of PC 288 if the case involves allegations of “substantial sexual conduct,” which the law generally defines as including acts of sexual penetration, oral copulation, or masturbation of the victim or the offender (see Pen. Code, § 1203.066, subd. (b)[defining “substantial sexual conduct”].) While this law applies only to crimes where the statute of limitations had not run previous to the law’s taking effect – i.e., January 1, 2017 – this nonetheless represents a substantial shift in policy and will undoubtedly result in a defendant having to defend against allegations that are many decades old. (Pen. Code, § 799, subd. (b).)
If the allegations do not involve “substantial sexual conduct,” the law changed here too. Before, the case had to be filed within 10 years of when the victim turned 18. Now, the law requires such cases to be filed before the victim reaches his or her 40th birthday. (Pen. Code, § 801.1, subd. (a)(1).) Once again, this new rule applies only where the statute of limitations had not expired before the new law took effect, i.e., January 1, 2015.
One other wrinkle in the law provides that, if Penal Code § 799, subdivision (b) does not apply (i.e., the crime is not subject to the “no statute of limitations” rule referenced above), a criminal case can be filed within 1 year of a person’s complaint made to a California law enforcement agency, that, while he or she was under 18, the person was a victim of a violation of PC 288.
This law applies when:
- the statute of limitations has expired,
- the crime involved “substantial sexual conduct,” and
- there is independent evidence corroborating the victim’s allegations; and, if the victim is 21 or older at the time of the report, the independent evidence must “clearly and convincingly” corroborate the victim’s allegations. The law further provides that “independent evidence” does not include the opinions of mental health professionals. (Pen. Code, 803, sub. (f).)
As you can see, to truly know the statute of limitations that applies, one would have to know the nature of what:
- the alleged victim is saying,
- the age of the alleged victim,
- the alleged victim’s date of birth,
- when the alleged victim claims the acts occurred,
- and when the alleged victim made a complaint to the police.
Given that Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor Child [PC 288] cases can involve potential sentences of decades in prison, you cannot afford to leave anything to chance.
Because each case can vary significantly in regards to allegations of child molestation (PC 288), it is important for you to contact an attorney from Wallin & Klarich in order to determine the best method of defense for your specific situation.
CAN I BE FALSELY ACCUSED OF CHILD MOLESTATION (PC 288)?
Evidentiary Requirements for Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Minor Child (PC 288)
As noted above, if the victim is 21 years old or older at the time he or she reported the crime, and the other statutes of limitations periods have expired, there must be “clear and convincing” independent evidence presented to show that the victim’s allegations are true; meaning that there must be some other evidence rather than the victim’s allegations. For example, the victim may be required to show that he or she sought treatment for this alleged incident from a therapist or reported the incident to a family member or friend near the time it allegedly happened.
The police will also ask for an explanation of why the victim waited so long to report the crime. This additional requirement reduces the likelihood of false accusations in applicable cases. Despite these apparent safeguards, false allegations of child molestation are nevertheless common and, now, with dramatically extended statutes of limitations – or no statutes of limitations – there are fewer safeguards.
Unfortunately, the current statute of limitations for child molestation means that you can be charged with this crime decades after the fact. The reasoning behind this is the belief that children who are molested may either repress traumatic experiences at an early age or even when they do remember what happened to them, may be too embarrassed to come forward.
Although the expanded statute of limitations rightfully gives true victims a chance to come forward and seek justice, it does have unintended consequences as well. Many innocent defendants face child molestation charges based on false accusations, which can damage their professional reputations even if their charges are dismissed, or impact them for life if they are convicted. The fact that charges can be brought decades after the fact may mean that crucial defense evidence is lost. People pass away, or simply forget what happened so long ago. We know that in America, you should never have to go through this situation or lose any of your personal freedoms simply due to false allegations.
WHAT IS THE SENTENCE IF CONVICTED OF CHILD MOLESTATION (PC 288)?
If you are convicted of violating PC 288(a), you face a sentence of either 3, 6, or 8 years in state prison. If you are convicted of violating PC 288(b) – i.e., the case involves allegations you used force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or on another person, you face a sentence of 5, 8, or 10 years in state prison.
Do you have to register as a sex offender for child molestation?
If you are convicted of violating PC 288, you will be required to register as a sex offender pursuant to California Penal Code Section 290. Registering as a sex offender means you will have to update your registration annually with a local law enforcement agency as long as you live, work or attend school in California.
If you are required to register as a sex offender for child molestation, your personal information such as your name, address, photo, and conviction are available to the public via a sex offender website run by the Department of Justice.
If you fail to register as a sex offender, you can face a new criminal charge for violating PC 290.
Contact Wallin & Klarich Today If You Are Facing Child Molestation Charges
False accusations of child molestation can ruin your career, your reputation, and your life. That is why you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away if you have been accused of child molestation or another sex crime.
At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled attorneys have been successfully defending clients facing both state and federal child molestation charges for over 40 years. We will meet with you promptly to review the facts of your case and devise a strong defense strategy that will help you obtain the very best outcome possible.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is an experienced and skilled Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714) 386-7124 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.