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Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child
PC 288.5
Law, Punishment, & Defense

Information on the crime of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child is found at California penal code section 288.5(a) [PC288.5(a)-F]. The following is a short summary of the law and punishment related to the crime of continuous sexual abuse of a child.

In short, continuous sexual abuse of a child means to commit a lewd and lascivious act upon a minor, who is under the age of 14, at least three times over the course of at least 3 months. The crime is usually abbreviated as "Cont Sex Abuse of Child" in court documents. This brief overview of PC 288.5 summarized the law, penalties, and common defenses related to the crime of cont sex abuse of child. For further information, please contact our sex crimes criminal defense attorneys.

PC 288.5(a) Law

PC 288.5(a): Any person…, who has recurring access to a child, and who commits lewd and lascivious acts against the child on three or more occasions over a duration of at least three months…, is guilty of the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child (PC 288.5(a) Summarized & Abbrev.).

Lewd & Lascivious Act: A lewd and lascivious act means a willful and inappropriate sexual touching, which is intended to sexually arouse the child or the defendant. The inappropriate sexual touching can be either when the child is touched by the defendant, or when the defendant is touched by the child as directed or forced by the defendant.


Note: Actual arousal of the defendant or the child is not required to prove the defendant is guilty of PC 288.5(a). The willful touching, coupled with the requisite intent to sexually arouse the defendant or the child, is sufficient.


Also, the willful and inappropriate sexual touching does not have to be skin to skin contact for PC 288.5(a) to apply. Additionally, the inappropriate sexual touching can involve any part of the child or the defendant under Penal 288.5(a), so long as the requisite sexual intent is present.

To find the defendant guilty of the crime of continuous sexual abuse of a child (PC 288.5), the district attorney must prove:

  • The defendant either lived with the child, or had recurring access to the child,

  • The defendant engaged in three or more acts of lewd and lascivious acts with the child,

  • Three or more months passed between the first and last acts, and

  • The child was under the age of fourteen years old at the time of the acts


Penalty for PC 288.5(a)

PC 288.5 is classified as a felony. If found guilty, the defendant could face up to eight (8), twelve (12), or sixteen (16) years in prison.

Note: If the defendant is sentenced to prison, the prison sentence will be served at eighty-five percent (85%), which means that even if the defendant earns good time behavior credits, the defendant will be required to serve at least eighty-five percent (85%) of his or her prison sentence.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period supervision instead of prison. A probation sentence may be possible after a conviction for PC 288.5(a), but only in special circumstances. What constitutes a special circumstance is judged on a case-by-case basis. A probation sentence in any PC288.5 case will usually include a period of incarceration as a term of probation, but this period of incarceration may usually be served alternatively on work release or house arrest.

Note: If the PC 288.5(a) allegation includes a substantial sexual conduct enhancement (PC 1203.066), the defendant is ineligible for a probation sentence. For more information, see Probation & Parole for CA Sex Crimes.

Split & Suspended Prison Sentence: 288.5(a) convictions are not subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that if the defendant is not granted probation after a conviction for PC 288.5(a), then defendant must serve his or her sentence in state prison (as opposed to a local county jail), and no part of the defendant’s prison sentence may be split or suspended.


Sex offender registration: If found guilty of PC 288.5(a), the defendant will be ordered to register as a sex offender pursuant to penal code 290 (PC290). Sex offender registration requires the defendant to register their sex offender status with local law enforcement every year, and within five (5) days of the defendant’s birthday every year.  For more information, see CA Tier System for Sex Offenders & Sex Offender Registration Requirements.

Three Strikes Crimes: PC 288.5(a) is classified as strike offense under California law. Also, the crime of continuous sexual abuse of a child is classified as both a violent and a serious offense per PC 667.5, and PC 1192.7, respectfully.


Professional License: If found guilty of PC 288.5(a), the defendant will very likely suffer negative consequences with his or her professional or occupational license, including revocation, suspension, and other licensure disciplinary actions. This applies to all Bar, Board, and Commission members, including doctors, lawyers, nurses, counselors, teachers, dentist, therapist, cosmetologist, and more.

Immigration Issues: Continuous sexual abuse of a child is considered a crime involving moral turpitude. Any non-United States citizen, including permanent residents, that are convicted of PC 288.5(a), may be deported from the United States and denied reentry after serving his or her prison or probation sentence.

Penalty Fines & Restitution: If convicted of PC 288.5(a), the defendant may face up to a ten thousand dollar ($10,000) fine. In addition, the defendant may be ordered to reimburse the county for booking fees and other court security fees. Restitution to the victim will also be ordered if the victim proves that he or she had any doctor or therapist bills associated with the crime.

Additional Penalties: In addition to a prison or probation sentence, if found guilty of continuous sexual abuse of a child (PC 288.5(a)), the defendant may face all of the following penalties: increased penalties for subsequent misdemeanor or felony convictions, criminal protective, loss of the right to own and possess firearms (felony convictions), loss of military service opportunities, civil lawsuits, and more.

Defenses to PC 288.5(a)

Every continuous sexual abuse of a child case is different. With that said, some defenses are more common found in PC 288.5(a) than other defenses, including lack of sufficient evidence, discredited witness, warrantless search and seizure issues, coerced confession, insanity, and more. For more information on common defenses to PC 288.5(a) criminal charges, including a discussion of the statute of limitations in continuous sexual abuse cases, see Defense Strategies in Sex Crimes.

For more information on PC 288.5(a), continuous sexual abuse of a child, including how to terminate sex offender registration, petition for exclusion from the sex offender website, and more, contact our experienced and dedicated sex crimes criminal defense lawyers today. Our team is passionate and deeply experienced with all misdemeanor and felony sex crimes defense in San Bernardino & Riverside County criminal courts. There is no fee to discuss your case at our Redlands office, in-person, any day of the week. Call today!


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