California Child Pornography Laws
Overview of California Child Pornography Laws
California's obscenity laws protect children from exploitation in pornographic materials. Laws against child pornography prohibit and punish the production, possession, transport, distribution, and sale of pornographic materials that involve or depict minors under the age of eighteen.
California law does not specifically criminalize the viewing of child pornography -- however, state law does prohibit the possession or control of pornographic materials containing content with minors. Downloading or saving child pornography to a personal computer likely qualifies as possession or control of the materials. Sharing, emailing, or otherwise distributing copies of the material likely also qualify according to state law.
The California Penal Code identifies many relevant types of pornographic materials, including photos, videos, films, negatives, materials saved through computer hardware or software, materials saved on data-storage devices and discs, and many others. To qualify as pornography, the materials must depict sexual conduct in an offensive manner that does not have any redeeming qualities as works with artistic, literary, political, or scientific content.
In a child pornography case, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant "knowingly" participated in the production, possession, or distribution of pornography-related materials involving a minor under the age of eighteen. Under California, "knowing" means that the defendant had an awareness of the content of the pornographic material.
Defenses to Child Pornography Charges
- Lack of knowledge regarding the involvement of a minor in the pornographic materials
- Activity conducted for a scientific or educational purpose
- Minor was legally emancipated at the time when the minor participated in the production of pornographic materials
Penalties and Sentences
The potential penalties and sentences depend on whether the defendant produced, possessed, distributed, or sold child pornography. A defendant convicted for possession of child pornography is guilty of a felony under California state laws. A conviction requires the defendant to register with the state of California through the Sex Offender Registration Act. The punishment may be a fine up to $2,500, imprisonment in county jail for up to one year, or both. More severe sentences often become applicable if the defendant is a repeat offender. A defendant previously convicted as a sex offender may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment in state prison lasting two, four, or six years if charged again with possession of child pornography.
Punishment for distribution of child pornography depends on the defendant's specific activities. In general, a defendant convicted of transporting child pornography into the state of California or distributing child pornography to others may be sentenced to a term of up to one year in county jail or state prison, a fine up to the amount of $2,000, or both. However, a court may require a fine up to the amount of $50,000 if the defendant has a previous conviction on a similar charge.
California state laws impose more stringent penalties on defendants who engage in the industry of child pornography for commercial gain. If the defendant transported, distributed, or advertised child pornography for commercial benefit, the penalty increases to imprisonment in state prison for a term of two, three, or six years, or a fine up ranging from $50,000 to $100,000. Furthermore, regardless of commercial gain, a defendant who hired or coerced a minor to participate in child pornography can receive a felony sentence of up to three, six, or eight years in state prison.
Federal laws also provide legal consequences for the possession, distribution, or production of child pornography. Accordingly, federal prosecutors may elect to pursue criminal judgments in federal court.
California Child Pornography Statute
California Penal Code Sections 311-312.7
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.