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PC 313.1 Distribute Harmful Matter to a Minor: Law, Penalties, & Defense

Information on the crimes of distributing or displaying harmful matter to minors is found at California penal code section 313.1.

This summary includes information on the law, penalties, and common defenses related to PC 313.1 For further information, contact our sex crimes criminal defense attorneys.

PC 313 Law

PC 313.1(a), It is unlawful to knowingly distribute or display “harmful matter” to a minor in California. “Knowingly” means to be aware, and a “minor” is any person under the age of eighteen (18) in California (PC 313.1 Abbrev.).

Harmful Matter Defined: “Harmful matter” means ‘pictures or videos of sexual images, which are designed to evoke sexual gratification or sexual stimulation, which are offensive to the average person under contemporary standards, and which serve no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value’ (PC 313(a) Abbrev. & Summarized).

Example: Videos or images of sexual sadomasochistic acts that include severe physical injury, sexual acts between humans and animals (bestiality), and sexual videos or images of minors engaging in sexual oral copulation, sexual intercourse, sexual penetration, or sodomy (child pornography), are commonly classified as “harmful matter.”

Note: The way in which matter is distributed can help ascertain whether that matter is “harmful” (PC 313(a)(1) Abbrev.).

For example, if the matter is distributed through secret channels, which are hidden from the general public and law enforcement (i.e., encrypted sender information, use of “Dark Web” distribution, etc.), or distributed only to a particular group of deviants (i.e., child molesters registered as such on the sex offender registry), then that manner of distribution, or the intended target audience, may be used as evidence that the matter is harmful.

Note: The defendant is not always an individual in PC 313.1 cases. In fact, a partnership, firm, association, corporation, limited liability company, or any other legal entity may be liable for distributing or displaying harmful matter.

Important: A defendant may be found guilty of displaying or distributing harmful matter to a minor if he either knows a person is a minor, or he fails to exercise reasonable care in ascertaining the true age of a minor.

Adult Sex Shop Operators: An adult sex store owner or operator who knowingly displays harmful matter, in any area where minors are not restricted access or view, and which includes the display of sexual intercourse, sodomy, oral copulation, masturbation, bestiality, sexual penetration, or photographs of an exposed erect penis, is guilty of displaying harmful matter (PC 313.1(c)(1) (Abbrev.).

PC 313.1(a) Punishment

First Offense PC 313.1(a): Every person who violates section 313.1(a), is guilty of a misdemeanor if it is his or her first offense. Upon conviction for misdemeanor displaying or distributing harmful matter to a minor, the defendant may receive up to a one-year jail sentence in a local county jail.

Second Offense PC 313.1(a): Every person who violates section 313.1(a), who has previously suffered a conviction for the same offense, is guilty of felony, and upon conviction, he may be sentenced to a three-year maximum jail sentence in a local county jail.

PC 1170(h) Sentencing: If the defendant is convicted of displaying or distributing harmful matter, and the defendant is not granted a probation sentence (See Probation Sentence), then the judge will impose either a 16-month, 2 years, or a 3-year jail sentence against the defendant. However, the judge may “split” the defendant’s jail sentence so that he may serve part of his sentence in jail and part of his sentence alternatively on work release (See Work Release).

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision by either the court, or by a felony probation officer. A probation sentence is allowed after a conviction for either a misdemeanor or a felony violation of PC 313.1, but a probation sentence is not guaranteed.

Note: Whether the defendant is granted a probation sentence after a conviction for displaying or distributing obscene matter depends largely on the facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, the terms of a negotiated plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, if any, and more.

Work Release: Work release is a common form of manual labor punishment that serves as an alternative to actual jail. Work release may be imposed as an alternative punishment, as opposed to an actual jail sentence, in both misdemeanor and felony PC 313.3(a) cases.

Sex Offender Registration: PC 313.1 is not a crime for which sex offender registration is mandatory upon conviction (PC 290). However, the court has discretion to order sex offender registration for any crime, including the crime of displaying or distributing harmful matter, if that crime is motivated by sexual compulsion (PC 290.006).

Additional Punishment: In addition to a jail sentence, or a probation sentence, if found guilty of PC 313.1, the defendant will face additional direct and indirect penalties, including court fines, possible victim restitution, criminal protective orders, military service consequences, professional licensing consequences, immigration consequences, and more.

Defense to PC 313

It is a defense to PC 313.1 charges to show that the defendant took careful measures to ensure the recipient of harmful matter was not a minor (PC 313.1(g) Abbrev.). This defense applies to individuals as well as adult sex shop owners and operators, and adult sex sites (i.e., “porn site”) owners and operators.

For adult internet sexual content providers and/or companies (i.e., “porn sites), this means the provider and/or company makes reasonable efforts to ascertain the age of the recipient, usually by required credit card payment or age verification process with reasonable efforts to obtain accurate information about the recipient.

For example, an adult video arcade owner is not required to validate the age of every customer that visits his arcade, but verification of age by government-issued identification is a reasonable means of verifying the age of younger-looking customers. Also, if a government-issued identification appears to be valid on its face, then the defendant is should not be guilty of PC 313.1(a) if the customer is legally entitled to use the identification.

Note: Nothing in penal code 313.1(a) prohibits any parent or guardian from distributing any harmful matter to his child or, permitting his child or ward to attend an exhibition of any harmful matter, if the child is accompanied by him (PC 313.2(a) Abbrev.).

Also, it is a defense to an alleged violation of PC 313.1(a) that the displaying or distributing of harmful matter to a minor was reasonably committed in aid of legitimate scientific or educational purposes (PC 313.3 Abbrev.).

Note: Additional defenses to PC 313.1 include statute of limitations, reasonable mistake of fact as to the age of the minor, coerced confession, police entrapment, failure to Mirandize the defendant, illegal search and seizure, jury nullification, and more.

If you or a loved one is charged with distributing or displaying harmful matter to a minor, or California penal code section 313.1, contact our sex crimes criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation.

Our sex crimes criminal defense attorneys have successfully represented hundreds of defendants charged with every type of misdemeanor and felony sex crime in the Inland Empire, including the cities and criminal courts of Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Victorville, San Bernardino, Riverside, Yucaipa, Rialto, Chino, Banning, and more.

Our highly rated, award-winning criminal defense team can represent you from the pretrial stages through trial and appeal if necessary. Our team of defense lawyers handle all sex crimes cases, including sexual penetration (PC 289), child molestation (PC 288(a)), possession of child porn (PC 311), indecent exposure (PC 314), sexual battery (PC 243.4), unlawful sexual intercourse (PC 261.5(c)), and more. Call today!


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PC 313.1 Display or Distribute Harmful Matter to a Minor


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