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Written by Attorney Seth Morris


Today’s teenagers are growing up in a volatile world. The risks and temptations they face are ones that their parents never had to deal with, simply because technology has advanced so much and so quickly. As the law tries to keep up with technological changes, this has led to some unintended consequences.

What is Child Pornography in California?

First, it’s important to note that some states have laws that explicitly address sexting between minors. States with these laws generally impose penalties that aren’t quite as severe, recognizing that teenagers naturally make dumb choices from time to time. California is not one of those states. Sexting is covered under several laws related to child pornography.

Under state law, it is illegal to have or send images of a minor that are obscene or show the minor engaged in sexual conduct. This is relatively broad to account for a range of image or video types but generally includes photos of the genitals, buttocks, or other areas intended to cause sexual stimulation. The court uses discretion to decide whether an image is intended for sexual stimulation.

How Can Pornography Laws Affect Teens Who Choose to Sext?

A teenager that sends or receives nude photos can be charged under California’s child pornography laws. It does not matter if the teenager is sending a picture of their own body—since they are a minor, they cannot legally consent to create such material. By sending, asking for, or receiving those images, a teenager can be accused of engaging in the creation or possession of child pornography.

Are There Any Exceptions to These Laws?

In certain states, some exceptions protect minors who send photos to other minors from getting hit with child pornography charges. This exception does not exist in California, but there are slight differences in how these cases are handled. An adult who sends or receives explicit material of a minor will be tried as an adult and face much stiffer penalties. A minor who is tried in juvenile court will be treated less harshly.

How Does a Prosecutor Prove Child Pornography?

A prosecutor must clear several hurdles to secure a child pornography conviction. To start, they must show that the person sending or receiving the photo was aware of the sexual nature of the material. This is relatively easy, as many sexting photos are explicit enough that they can only be interpreted sexually.

They must also show that the person receiving the material knew that the person in it was below 18. If the person sending it lied about their age and the other person had no way of knowing they were indeed a minor, making these charges stick would be incredibly difficult.

What Are the Penalties for a Child Pornography Conviction?

A conviction’s consequences depend on the crime you are accused of. Your child may be facing one of the following charges:

Possession or Control of Child Pornography

If someone is convicted of possession or control of matter showing a minor engaging in sexual conduct, they may have to spend up to a year in jail or prison, pay a fine as high as $2,500, or some combination of the two. Someone with a prior conviction could be sentenced to more time in prison.

Sending or Distributing Child Pornography

Sending or distributing material showing sexual conduct of a minor comes with the same incarceration penalty, but the maximum fine is $2,000. If the sender of the material knowingly and intentionally sent it to a minor, the charge becomes a felony.

Creating, Exchanging, or Duplicating Material

If someone creates, exchanges, or duplicates this type of material, they may be charged with sexual exploitation of a child. The penalties are the same as those associated with sending or distributing material.

An adult with these convictions must be listed on the California Sex Offender Registry. This includes 18- and 19-year-olds exchanging photos with a younger partner.

While the juvenile court handles most cases, minors may be referred to the adult court if they are 16 or older and facing felony charges.

Call Morris Law Now—Child Pornography Charges Are Serious

Child pornography charges can follow your child for the rest of their life. Do not cross your fingers and hope the court will understand that your child meant no harm and go easy on them if they were charged due to sexting. This is when you need an aggressive defense attorney ready to protect your child’s future opportunities. Set up a consultation by contacting Morris Law, A Criminal Defense Firm online or calling us at (510) 225-9955.