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.

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.

California Child Pornography Laws Overview

Below you will find key provisions of California’s child pornography laws.

Statutes

California Penal Code Section 311.1, 311.2 (Knowingly sending, transporting, producing, possessing or duplicating child pornography with intent to distribute)

California Penal Code Section 311.3 (Sexual exploitation of a child)

California Penal Code Section 311.4 (Knowingly hiring, employing, using, persuading, or coercing a minor to participate in the production of child porn)

California Penal Code Section 311.0 (Knowingly advertising obscene child porn for sale or distribution)

California Penal Code Section 311.1 (Knowingly possessing or controlling any child pornography that was produced using a person under 18)

Penalties

The potential penalties and sentences depend on whether the defendant produced, possessed, distributed, or sold child pornography.

  • Possession: Felony, 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.
  • Distribution: 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. 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.

Possible Defenses

  • 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

Mandatory Lifetime Sex Registration


Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Codes and Legal Research Options

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about California’s child pornography laws, click on the following links:

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