The ever-increasing quality of cell phone photos and videos, not to mention the ubiquity of social media and other communication apps, has changed how many people shoot photos and videos today. The simplicity of capturing a video or photo with an always-present cell phone allows parents to capture quick moments in their child’s lives or snap a photo to remind them which level their vehicle is on in a parking garage. As with most technology, however, there are some downsides, even some that start innocently and end up getting someone in trouble. Here’s what you need to know about sexting in California.

What Is Sexting?

“Sexting” is a portmanteau word that combines “sex” and “texting.” One person sends a sexual or suggestive photo or video to another person via phone or various apps. For example, two adults who are seeing each other may find it romantic or sexy to send photos containing nudity or sexualized images.

Is Sexting Illegal in California?

Sexting itself is not illegal in California. However, there are many situations in which it turns from a harmless exchange between two romantically involved people into something illegal.

Legal sexting takes place between consenting adults. Both sender and receiver should have consented to receive these types of communications. Perhaps the most critical part of that concept is that of consenting adults. If one side or the other has not agreed to receive such images–or if someone takes photos or videos of someone else without their consent–there are legal implications. If one person consented but is under the age of 18, it’s still illegal.

How Could Sexting Result in Legal Action?

There are several ways this could happen, even if the original intention was harmless.

  • Minors. As mentioned above, involving anyone under 18 in any aspect of sexting (sending, receiving, or posing for photos or videos) is against California law. Typically, the courts will be more severe if one of the people involved in the sexting is in their 20s or older as opposed to two minors sexting each other. That said, the minors could find themselves in court and end up being ordered into therapy or community service. Adults involved with minors could be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor conviction could lead to a year in county jail, and/or a $1,000 fine, and mandatory lifetime registration as a sex offender. This is a significant consequence that can affect where someone lives and if they’re able to find work.
  • Invasion of privacy/unlawful peeking. It’s illegal in California to take photos or videos of someone without their knowledge or consent. Invasion of privacy is a deliberate act (such as someone installing a peephole in a women’s locker room wall), while unlawful peeking means someone stumbles onto an opportunity and takes advantage of it (notices someone undressing while walking by their home and stops to watch). These are usually considered misdemeanors in California and could result in up to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. Note that that represents cases involving only adults; if the victim of the invasion of privacy or unlawful peeking is a minor, both the jail time and the fines could double.
  • Sexual harassment. When nonconsensual sexting takes place in a workplace, that could be considered sexual harassment, especially if it creates a hostile work environment or is used by someone with more power to control someone with less. This is a crime known as sexual misconduct. If convicted on misdemeanor charges, it can result in up to 6 months in county jail and a fine of up to $2,000 ($3,000 if the victim worked for the defendant at the time of the sexting). If pursued as a felony, it can result in up to four years in prison and $10,000 in fines and restitution.

What Is Revenge Porn?

Revenge porn happens when someone agrees to have a video or photo taken of them that could be considered sexual, but only agrees if the other person keeps the photo private. If the other person shares the photo with others or posts it online without the victim’s consent, that’s considered revenge porn (so named because it’s frequently done when couples are arguing or have broken up).

California has a specific law banning revenge porn, which is also known as nonconsensual pornography. To face charges for this, there are five areas to be identified:

  • The photo or video must include images of intimate body parts of an identifiable person or that person engaged in a sexual act.
  • The pair had agreed to keep the images private.
  • The person distributing the photo would expect it to cause distress to the person in the photo.
  • One person deliberately distributes the photo or video.
  • The person in the photo suffers emotional distress as a result of the photo being shared or made public.

Revenge porn is a misdemeanor which, on first conviction, results in up to 6 months in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. However, if there are previous convictions for revenge porn or invasion of privacy, or if the victim is a minor, the punishment can be much harsher.

What Should I Do if I’ve Been Accused of Inappropriately Sexting?

Call us as soon as possible at 949-305-7995 to set up a free consultation. We can help you determine the best course of action to avoid the consequences charges. We understand California’s laws in these types of cases and can help develop a defense toward the best outcome possible.