Facing criminal charges of any nature can be overwhelming and intimidating, especially if this is your first offense. Even the experience of law enforcement placing you under arrest can be frightening as you wonder how this incident will affect your future. Although our country’s criminal justice system emphasizes that individuals should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the reality is that your friends, family, and community may assume you are guilty as soon as they learn you are facing charges. This is particularly true for sexual offenses—even a mere accusation of sexual misconduct can cause irreparable damage to your reputation, even if the allegations are baseless or false. If law enforcement has arrested you for sexual battery, contact an experienced Los Angeles County criminal defense lawyer right away to ensure your rights remain protected at every turn. In the meantime, it’s helpful to understand how California law defines sexual battery, what the potential penalties may be, and what steps to take when facing such charges to keep your future as bright as possible.
How California Law Defines Sexual Battery
The term “sexual battery” may be unfamiliar to many people. Essentially, this offense encompasses acts of unwanted touching or contact for sexual purposes performed against the will of the alleged victim. Under California Penal Code § 243.4, “Any person who touches an intimate part of another person while that person is unlawfully restrained by the accused or an accomplice, and if the touching is against the will of the person touched and is for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of sexual battery.” Other acts that are considered sexual battery include sexually touching someone who is institutionalized for medical treatment or who is seriously disabled, medically incapacitated, or unconscious at the time of the incident. The statute clarifies that the term “touches” refers to “physical contact with another person, whether accomplished directly, through the clothing of the person committing the offense, or through the clothing of the victim.”
Understanding the Penalties for Sexual Battery Convictions
To secure a sexual battery conviction, prosecutors must prove all elements of the crime. First, they must show that the defendant unlawfully restrained another person and touched an intimate part of the victim’s body. They must also establish that the touching occurred against the victim’s will and was performed for the purpose of sexual gratification, sexual abuse, or sexual arousal. If convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery, you could spend up to one year in county jail and pay a fine of up to $3,000. However, there are circumstances in which the charges may escalate in severity, moving from a misdemeanor to a felony offense.
So-Called “Wobbler” Offenses
California law identifies circumstances in which the judge or prosecutor may determine the most appropriate punishment for a sexual battery offense. So-called “wobbler” offenses refer to charges that may be charged, at the prosecutor’s discretion, as either a felony or a misdemeanor. For example, if the victim is unconscious, institutionalized, or seriously disabled at the time of the incident, the conviction may carry harsher penalties (i.e., imprisonment in state prison for two, three, or four years instead of one year or less). Wobbler offenses allow the court and prosecution to have more flexibility in tailoring the punishment to address the specific nature of the crime. It’s essential to enlist the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney who can advocate passionately on your behalf and keep your future as bright as possible.
Felony Sexual Battery in Los Angeles County
While most sexual battery offenses are considered misdemeanor or “wobbler” offenses, the charges may escalate to felony charges in certain circumstances. If you have a previous conviction for a sexual battery offense, any subsequent charge will be considered a felony offense, punishable by imprisonment in state prison for two, three, or four years and up to $10,000 in fines. The court will also consider the victim’s age, as offenses involving minors will likely lead to more severe penalties.
Defend Your Freedom and Future Today
As soon as law enforcement arrests you for sexual battery, resist the urge to claim your innocence or explain the situation. Any words you say may be twisted and used to further the prosecution’s case against you, so exercise your right to remain silent until you have the opportunity to contact your attorney. Your lawyer will assess the specifics of your case and determine the most strategic path forward. Their goal is to seek the best possible outcome given the particulars of the case, defending your legal rights at every step of the criminal justice process.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in Los Angeles County, call Wegman & Levin at (818) 980-4000 to schedule a free consultation with a skilled and trusted criminal defense lawyer.