“Sexting” is the commonly used term for the act of sending a sexually explicit photo or text message via a mobile phone. And in cases where the photo or the target is a minor teen, it can also be a serious criminal offense.
Even if you are a teen sending consensual photos to another teen, criminal child pornography felony charges can result, according to most state laws.
We are nearly 10 years into the ubiquitous smartphone era (the first iPhone was released in June 2007), yet criminal laws are still far behind where the culture is on behavior and accessibilty to instantly creating and sharing images.
Do The Laws Against Sexting Need Reform?
The child pornography distribution criminal laws that comprise “sexting” offenses were largely written with sexual predators in mind, and don’t reflect the reality that most sexting crimes are between teens via cell phones.
Is it reasonable for a teen to face a felony sex offense for receiving and possessing a suggestive picture sent from a girlfriend or boyfriend? Most people understand that this kind of potential penalty is completely out of proportion to the circumstances.
The fact is that nearly all teens have mobile phones with cameras. And the adolescent brain is known to make impulsive and bad decisions. With the means so readily available, mistakes in judgment will be made in an instant, and they are difficult to undo and have significant social and legal implications.
Peer pressure no doubt can play a significant role in teen sexting cases, as well. And misplaced trust can result in what was supposed to be a private and personal picture being widely circulated.
But most of these circumstances, though regrettable and dangerous, should not come with felony criminal penalties.
Some states are considering alternative juvenile laws to teach and explain the dangers of sexting. In juvenile courts, teens typically get a chance to get criminal offenses removed from their records, or have prosecutions deferred and they dropped after 6 months or a year of no further incidents. This is a reasonable alternative, and avoids a permanent criminal record as a sex offender for life, and registered sex offender status for a dumb mistake.
Some criminal charges that can result from sexting include felony and misdemeanor offenses, such as:
- Child Pornography
- Distributing or Possessing a Sexually Explicit Photo
- Communicating with a minor with the intent of a lewd act
- Internet Sex Crimes
- Sending harmful matter with the intent of seduction
Attempting to seduce or sending lewd texts or photos to a minor is a serious offense, especially in the case of an adult soliciting a minor child.
But these laws also often apply unfairly when only teens are involved, or even if a 17 or 18 year old boy sends racy texts to his 16 year old girlfriend. Or if a girl sends a suggestive or nude image to her boyfriend, the boyfriend could be charged with possession of child pornography just for receiving the image.
The Sexting Circumstances Vary Widely and Matter a Great Deal
A zero tolerance legal framework for anything that could fall under the category of child pornography makes no sense anymore.
There are many factors to consider in what should be a crime, and what should not.
- Is the person a completely willing participant?
- Was the sexting deliberately or accidentally distributed publicly, or to multiple people?
- Is there a low level of coercion going on? “If you love me, you would send me a sexy picture of yourself.“
- Is there a higher level of threatening? “If you don’t send me a picture, I will tell everyone X.”
- Are the pictures used as a threat? “If you don’t do X, I will send people the picture.“
- Did someone publicly distribute the pictures in order to damage that person, or as a perceived revenge?
- Is one person above 17 or 18 and a legal adult, and the other isn’t? How many years is the age difference?
Any of these considerations may be a factor as to whether a sexting incident should be not prosecuted at all, dealt with in juvenile court in a way that won’t harm a minor for life, or taken more seriously in criminal court.
Not everything we think is a bad idea or advocate against should be a criminal charge.
Federal Sex Offender Registration
If you are convicted of any sex offense or criminal charge designated as sexual in nature, you will be required to register as a sex offender, and be part of a national database.
Legal Defenses In Sexting Cases
Legal strategies in sexting cases, and any with any charges of a sexual nature often start with trying to get sexual offender status off the table as a possible penalty.
If there is an opportunity to argue for reducing the charges to a lesser offense, that is often a good outcome.
Sexting laws reform efforts continue in many states, but most statutes still list extreme penalties for juveniles engaged in this behavior.
Any sex offense is a very serious charge and needs an aggressive and smart legal strategy. You are up against a legal system that is unlikely to give you the benefit of the doubt. Your attorney will need to be prepared to fight tirelessly on your behalf.
A free initial consultation with an experienced defense attorney who has fought sex charges similar to yours is the best place to start.
You need to hear an honest assessment from someone who isn’t there to judge you but help you. Take advantage of a free criminal defense consultation on sexting charges to find out who is the best defense attorney to represent you in your case.
Contact us for help.