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How Old Do You Have to be to Get a Tattoo in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Mar 22, 2019 | 0 Comments

child with a tattoo
It is a crime if a person “inks” someone under the age of 18.

A person has to be 18 years or older to get a tattoo in California. In fact, it is a crime if a person “inks” someone under the age of 18.

California Penal Code 653 PC is the California statute that makes it a criminal offense for a person to tattoo, or to offer to tattoo, a person under the age of 18.

A violation of this code section is charged as a misdemeanor. The crime is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

What is California Penal Code 653 PC?

As stated above, PC 653 is the California statute that speaks on tattooing a person under the age of 18.

The code section says it is a crime for a person to either tattoo, or to offer to tattoo, any person aged 18 or younger.

Under PC 653, “to tattoo” means:

“to insert pigment under the surface of the skin of a human being, by pricking with a needle or otherwise, so as to produce an indelible mark or figure visible through the skin.”

There is an exception under the code section and it applies to licensed practitioners of the “healing arts.” This means these professionals are not guilty of tattooing a minor if they prick a minor's skin with a needle in the course of their practice.

Some examples of professionals employed in the “healing arts” include:

  • occupational therapists,
  • massage therapists,
  • chiropractors,
  • medical assistants, and
  • acupuncturists.

What are the penalties if a person violates California Penal Code 653 PC?

If a party is guilty of tattooing a minor, he is charged with a misdemeanor. The offense is punishable by:

  • imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months; and/or,
  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

Please note that in lieu of jail time a judge may order a defendant to misdemeanor probation. This is also called “summary” or “informal” probation.

Are there any legal defenses if accused under Penal Code 653?

There are two common legal defenses available to a defendant that is charged with tattooing a minor. This first is to show that he did not “tattoo” a person, as that term is defined under the statute. For example, a person that places a temporary tattoo on a child is not guilty of a crime because he did not prick a needle into the child's skin.

The second defense is for an accused to prove that he is a licensed practitioner of the healing arts and is exempted from PC 653. If these professionals “tattoo” a minor in the course of their practice (e.g., a medical assistant drawing blood from a minor), then they are not guilty of a crime.

What about piercings?

Unlike getting a tattoo, there is not a minimum age for getting a piercing. However, a minor must have one of her parent's consent before getting her ears pierced. Further, a parent or guardian of a minor must be present before and during the procedure.

Please note that minors can be pierced in an area other than their ears with parental consent, but not on their genitals or nipples.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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