Revenge porn–related charges carry serious consequences in California

In 2013, California enacted a law against "revenge porn," or intimate images posted with the intention of causing distress to the person depicted in the image. In late 2014, a Los Angeles man became the first person in the state to be convicted and sentenced under this law. That case and other subsequent high-profile ones have helped highlight the serious consequences faced by people who share revenge porn in California.

Steep sanctions

The 2013 law made posting revenge porn a misdemeanor punishable with jail time and other sanctions. People who cannot be charged directly under the state's revenge porn law may nonetheless face even harsher sentencing. Last February, a California man who allegedly ran a revenge porn website was convicted of federal charges of identity theft and computer hacking. He is facing two to seven years in federal prison.

People accused of using revenge porn for financial gain may face even stiffer penalties. In April, a California man who was convicted of running another revenge porn website was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The man was accused of accepting more than $30,000 in payments in return for removing content from the website. He was ultimately convicted of identity theft and extortion.

Concerns with law

Unfortunately, the very nature of this law and recent efforts to prosecute people for related offenses could leave some people facing unwarranted charges. Defending against sex crime charges can already be challenging as these charges often involve conflicting accounts. The terms of the current revenge porn law may make it difficult for accused people to show that their intentions were innocent. Critics of the law have pointed to the following potential issues:

  • The intent of the person who posts the materials might not be clear. Materials are only considered revenge porn if they are posted with the goal of causing the subject emotional distress or embarrassment. Conclusively proving this is the case can be problematic.
  • Materials must be posted without the consent of the subject to qualify as revenge porn. Consent can be a murky issue. In some cases, the person who posts the materials could mistakenly believe consent had been given. In other cases, the subject could withdraw consent after the materials had been posted.
  • Outlawing the sharing of the images may also violate free speech rights. To protect the sharing of materials that aren't posted maliciously, California observes a narrower law than other states. Yet, proving that innocent materials aren't revenge porn can still be difficult.

These sources of ambiguity may have devastating effects for people who are accused of posting revenge porn or otherwise contributing to its sharing.

Given the serious potential consequences of revenge porn-related charges, anyone facing such charges should consider seeking legal guidance. An attorney may be able to offer advice on defending against the charges based on the scope of current state law or other factors.

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