Lewd and Lascivious Conduct With a Child

Lewd and lascivious conduct with a child is inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature. The victims are children under 16 years old, and lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor is often charged as a felony sex offense. A person convicted of lascivious behavior with a child can face severe penalties, including up to life in prison, and must register as a sex offender for ten years. Learn more in our legal guide below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Lewd and lascivious conduct with a child is when a defendant engages in sexual contact with a child with the intent to arouse or gratify his sexual desires (or those of a third party). It is usually charged as one or two felony grades lower than a completed sexual assault of a child but carries many of the same consequences as a sexual battery conviction.

Read on to learn more about what is considered a lewd act on a child, what are the elements of a lewd act with a child, what is the penalty for an act of lasciviousness, and possible defenses. If you need further assistance, just enter your ZIP code below.

What is lewd and lascivious conduct with a child?

Lewd and lascivious conduct with a child is more serious than an indecent exposure charge, but less serious than a felony sexual assault of a child. The conduct for a lewdness charge involves more than the mere exposure of genitalia, but tends to fall short of full sexual penetration. Before lewd and lascivious conduct statutes were passed, the same conduct would have been considered an attempted sexual assault charge.

Over the years, more states have made laws prohibiting any sexual contact between adults and children. Some states, like Florida and Idaho, use the actual term “lewd and lascivious conduct.” Other states call the same bad conduct or offense “indecency with a child” or “indecent contact with a child.” Even though the titles vary, the general elements tend to be very similar. A criminal defense attorney can evaluate each case to determine what the best options are.

What are elements of lewd conduct charges?

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#1 – The Victim Must be a Child

The first element of this charge is proving that the victim was actually a child. Who is considered a child for the purpose of this statute varies by state statutes. Idaho, for example, addresses conduct involving children under the age of sixteen. Texas addresses conduct for children under 17 years of age. Depending on where a defendant is charged, the age requirement usually ranges from fourteen to seventeen years of age. This doesn’t mean defendants can get off by creating reasonable doubt about what age they believed the child to be. The courts look at the victim’s actual age at the time of the crime.

#2 – Sexual Contact

The second element of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child charge is sexual contact. Each state defines what they consider sexual contact, but all require some type of touching. Sexual contact can include touching by an instrument (such as a sex toy), genital-to-genital contact, or the mere rubbing of genitals with the hand of a defendant. Some defendants attempt to downplay the sexual contact component by arguing that they only touched a victim over the clothing. However, most lewd and lascivious conduct with a child statutes do not differentiate conduct over or under clothing. Instead, the focus is sexual contact directed to one of a child’s private areas such as the anus, breast, or genitals. Sexual conduct with or without skin-to-skin contact is treated the same.

#3 – Intent of the Contact

The third element of lewd and lascivious molestation with a child charge is the intent of the contact. Most states have some requirement that the purpose of the sexual contact be for the sexual gratification of the defendant. This requirement exists to weed out accidental or appropriate contact, especially those over the clothing. For example, a parent or babysitter would not be charged for changing their toddler’s diaper. Of the three elements, this is the most common element utilized in defensive theories by defendants who do not deny that contact occurred but instead contest the idea that it was inappropriate conduct.

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What Does Lewd Behavior Look Like?

  • Touching a child’s body on purpose either on the bare skin or through the clothing
  • Causing a child to touch his/her own body, your body, or someone else’s body, either on the bare skin or through clothing
  • Groping
  • Indecent exposure of genitalia,
  • Convincing or forcing others to touch each other sexually

What defenses are used for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child?

Sexual contact over clothing tends to be easier to defend than touching under clothing. Defendants charged with lewd and lascivious conduct with a child through sexual contact over clothing have a better chance of demonstrating that the purpose of the touching was not for their sexual gratification. With this defense, a defendant does not contest that the child was touched but instead challenges the intent of the touch. An innocent or expected behavior is thereby less likely to be charged as a sex crime.

For example, a defendant can introduce evidence that the touching was an accident or just a part of a consensual prank or rough housing. Before using this defense, a defendant should anticipate the prosecution’s response. If the state has evidence of other lewd and lascivious conduct, the state may be able to introduce evidence of the other events to rebut a defendant’s defensive theory that this was merely an isolated accident. This defense rarely works with a charge for touching under clothing.

Consent may or may not be a defense to lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Some states have limited consent defenses when a defendant is close in age to the victim and the victim consented to the sexual contact. These are referred to as “Romeo and Juliet” defenses. Several states do not have Romeo & Juliet laws, which leaves the door open for these charges to be used against minors of the same age.

Other states, such as Florida, specifically prohibit a defendant from claiming consent, chastity, or promiscuity of the victim as a defense. Some states will authorize the “Romeo and Juliet” defense only for sexual assault or sexual battery charges, but not for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child. Even where a specific consent defense is not available, evidence of consent can be used to mitigate punishment for lewd conduct with a child charge. Your criminal defense lawyer can build your defense with laws relevant in your state.

What Are The Consequences of Lewd Behavior and Child Molestation?

Most defendants are concerned about how much jail time they will have to serve after a conviction. Many states will impose punishment from two to forty years in prison. If a defendant engaged in multiple acts, he could be charged under a continuous abuse statute and be required to serve a minimum of twenty-five years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. If a defendant has a prior conviction for any sexually related offenses, some states will automatically impose a life sentence. When perpetrators are released, sex offender registration is required, which has a lasting impact on the rest of their lives.

In lesser cases, a defendant may receive a probated sentence. Even though they receive probation, many defendants find that probation for sex-related offenses are very intensive and expensive.

A defendant with a lewd and lascivious conduct with a child conviction is required to report more often and to pay for intensive sex offender counseling. Many sex offender counselors require monthly polygraphs which can cost up to $800 per polygraph. They may also be required to pay for their victims’ therapy. This type of charge is compounded if pornographic material is involved.

Even more serious is the effect of a life felony record that results from a conviction of this type on a defendant’s earning capacity. Not only are defendants straddled with high fees, but they are also required to register for ten years to life as a sex offender. Unsupervised probation is uncommon.

Many employers will not hire individuals who are required to register as a sex offender. Depending on the job, they may not be able to. Some state agencies will not extend certain professional licenses to defendants who are required to register as a sex offender, and probation may require you to live a certain distance from schools and other similar organizations.

Whatever your sexual intent, always call an experienced lawyer for your criminal offense. Whether you’re innocent or guilty, a lawyer can present your side of the story and work out a deal that makes sense for both sides.

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