August 14, 2012 • Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
A 14-year-old was arrested on August 7 near Sacramento for suspicion of committing lewd acts at a day care center owned by his mother.
As a juvenile criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that lewd acts sounds like a euphemism, but under California law it is a specific crime.
One aspect of the crime involves sexual acts that are done in public. These are governed by California Penal Code Section 287(a), which makes certain lewd acts performed in public misdemeanors.;
Every person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor:
(a) Who solicits anyone to engage in or who engages in lewd or dissolute conduct in any public place or in any place open to the public or exposed to public view.
In the case involving the day care center, however, the potential charges could be much more serious.
Under California Penal Code section 288(a), someone who touches someone under the age of 14 with the intent to arouse them can be sentenced to jail for up to eight years. To be convicted of committing lewd acts on a minor under 14, the lewd acts must be done with an intent to arouse or gratify the desires of either the person doing the touching or the child.
Here, as always, the child is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Moreover, we don’t know what the child or the day care center did or whether the alleged victim is under 14. Depending on how the prosecution views the case, people charged with lewd acts can also face felony charges for indecent exposure, sexual battery, or molestation. In contrast to a violation of Section 288(a), which is a felony, sexual battery, which is governed by California Penal Code Section 243.4, is a wobbler; it can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Most of the time, juveniles who are found guilty of committing lewd acts are put into what is known as “suitable placement.” This is a group home that at least in theory is supposed to provide an opportunity for therapeutic treatment. Unlike some sex crimes committed by adult crimes, California law does not impose a lifetime registration requirement on juvenile sex offenders unless the offenses are registerable under California Penal Code Section 290 AND the juvenile is sentenced to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which in California is the equivalent of state prison for minors. Here, whether a child would need to register as a sex offender for life depends in large part on whether he is found guilty of violating section 288(a). This is just one example how a criminal act committed by someone as young as 14 can have lifelong repercussions.