35-year-old actor James Franco, famous for his roles as the gay lover of Harvey Milk in the feature film “Milk” and the villain Harry Osborn in “Spiderman 2” and “Spiderman 3,” has gotten himself into a sticky situation. He may have just added “creepy old dude” to the long list of credits next to his name.
Recently, Franco met a 17-year-old teenager named Lucy, a Scottish girl on vacation with her parents visiting New York City. The girl took an Instagram video of the actor, who was signing autographs outside the theater of his Broadway show. Franco says in the video “you gotta tag me.” She did.
Franco and the teenager went on to exchange messages on social media and text messages later that night, when the conversation turned flirtatious, perhaps solicitous. Was he thinking about having sex with the teenager?
In their text messaging, which the girl made public, Franco asks about her age (she admitted that her 18th birthday was several weeks away) and whether she was interested in seeing him.
The most damaging of all was this exchange:
Franco: “Can I see you?”
Lucy: “As long as you are James Franco.”
Franco: “I am. You’re single? What’s the hotel? Should I rent a room?”
When the girl asked Franco to prove his identity, he sent her a selfie.
Had Franco been chatting up the 17-year-old girl in California, he may have violated Penal Code Section 288.4, California’s law prohibiting online enticement of a minor for unlawful sexual purposes.
What is Online Enticement of a Minor? (Penal Code Section 288.4)
California Penal Code Section 288.4 prohibits a person from arranging a meeting with a minor under the age of 18, or with someone believed to be a minor, if the meeting is:
- Motivated by a unnatural or abnormal sexual interest in children; and
- For the purpose of engaging in lewd or lascivious activity.
The California legislature enacted the law in 2006 in response to public outcry over sexual predators caught in sting operations recorded for the popular television series “To Catch a Predator.” The law is intended to reduce the potential risk children face from anonymous and illegal online requests for sex.
What is the Punishment for Arranging a Meeting with a Minor for Sex?
If James Franco were ever convicted of arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd and lascivious purposes in California, he would be facing:
- Up to one year in jail; and/or
- A maximum $5,000 fine.
The crime is charged as a misdemeanor provided the perpetrator does not already have a sex offense conviction on his or her record. If so, the offense is punishable as a felony, carrying:
- 16 months, two or three years in prison; and/or
- A fine of up to $10,000.
Worst of all, a conviction for enticing a minor for sex requires lifetime registration as a sex offender while residing, working or attending school in California.
What if Franco Had Actually Met the Teenager at the Arranged Meeting Place?
The penalty for violating Penal Code Section 288.4 increases significantly if the person who arranges the meeting with a minor actually goes to the intended meeting place.
If Franco had gone to a hotel room in California at or about the time he had arranged to meet 17-year-old Lucy, he could have faced felony charges carrying up to four years
in prison (Penal Code Section 288.4 (b)) in addition to lifetime sex offender registration.
Upon his release to supervision in the community, Franco would be subject to the following mandatory parole conditions for at least 3 years:
- 24-hour-a-day satellite tracking with a GPS device strapped to his ankle;
- Weekly treatment in a certified sex offender management program;
- Polygraph testing;
- Unannounced monitoring of his computer(s) and any other internet-capable devices;
- Warrantless searches of his person and property by any law enforcement officer;
- A nightly curfew; and
- No contact with any children under the age of 18.
As a sex offender, he could have also faced:
- A state-mandated restriction prohibiting him from residing within 2,000 feet of schools and parks where children regularly gather;
- Local community laws further restricting his residency and/or presence at certain public facilities and private businesses designated as “child safety zones”; and
- Publication of his name, address and photograph on California’s online sex offender registry.
Could James Franco Be Criminally Charged for His Instagram Scandal?
Franco made a risky and foolish decision to flirt with someone he knew, or at least believed was under the age of 18. However, he and the girl were in New York City when they exchanged flirtations via Instagram.
The State of New York establishes the age of consent at 17. Which means Franco would not have broken New York law even if he did have sex with the teenage girl, provided that she had willingly participated in sexual activity with him.
If he had been in California, Franco’s act could have ended up becoming his worst role ever. He would have risked being criminally charged with violating California’s law prohibiting online enticement of a minor for a lewd and lascivious purpose.
If he were convicted, Franco would probably never be asked to host the Academy Awards again. His acting career would be ruined.
He could have ended up playing the part of Registered Sex Offender for the rest of his life.
Contact Wallin & Klarich if You Have Been Accused of Enticing a Minor for Sex
If you or someone you care about has been accused of an unlawful sex crime such as arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd or lascivious purposes, you should speak with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich right away.
Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 30 years of experience successfully defending our clients facing the severe consequences of a registerable sex offense. We may be able to argue for a reduction or dismissal of the charges against you. We may be able to negotiate for a sentence that helps you avoid serving jail or prison time. Our priority is to help you achieve the best possible result in your case.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our skilled and knowledgeable sex crimes defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are available 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week to make certain all of your rights are protected. You don’t have to go through this alone.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.