Useful features of cameras and internet access are built in features in most smart phones with the capability of posting or sending pictures in real time. However, many people do not realize that when graphic images of children are sent to anyone, this is a violation of federal child pornography laws already in effect. Some states have similar laws or regulations. The receiving of these images is a violation of possession of child pornography laws and anyone of any age that receives these may be subject to a sex crimes violation. In some cases, the younger the recipient that receives them, the harsher the penalty they receive.
Criminal or Innocent Conduct?
There has been debate since the inception of federal law ruling over the sexting phenomenon. One particular case held three female teens on charges of felony child pornography crimes at a federal level after they took nude photographs of themselves through their phones and sent them to friends in photo messages. They were threatened to be prosecuted by the district attorney. However, a federal district judge declared the teens had successfully argued that the photos were not displaying sexual activity, nor were they showing the girls in a provocative position or manner. No violations of the state law they lived in occurred, and they were protected under the First Amendment. If this is how the issue is handled in some states, the problem of sexting with teens and children may be more complicated than just applying child pornography laws against the practice.
When some states have no laws against sexting, the prosecution of teens that send the messages is complex and complicated.
Pennsylvania is one such state that has no laws against sexting. New Jersey, however, does have laws but has proposed an alternative to criminal proceedings. Other states may consider the proposal of using the state assembly to create a diversionary program. This allows teens that have been charged with sexting crimes to go through a program that focuses on educating them. The program would free up court trials and bypass criminal penalties with an instructive program that explains to teens and younger children about the consequences and penalties that may arise through sending these messages to others. The idea explains in detail just how sex crimes may cause a person adverse issues for the rest of his or her life.
Different Approaches Depending on the State
Some states have extremely harsh punishments no matter how old the person sending the photo of and whether he or she is semi-naked, completely naked or engaged in sexual conduct. Sexting has been considered a sex crime in some states with the requirement of sex offender registration upon conviction. Other states have less harsh punishments in the way of fines or other types of programs that are used to explain why sexting is a crime.
Would Programs Prove A Deterrent?
Because of Megan’s Law, sexting is considered a felony sex crimes offense. This uses sex offender registration as a punishment for sex crimes, and the information is available to the public through various means. However, in many states there are not specific penalties targeting teens that send sexting messages to other teens. In many cases these messages are sent as a joke, to be funny to friends, as a flirtation and for other related purposes. Such programs as those of New Jersey in various states are created in the hope to de-criminalize sexting crimes for children under eighteen years of age who have consented to the conduct in question. When they are caught and put through this program, it is a hope that they will learn from the lessons and explain to others why they should not send these types of messages. Awareness of these programs is growing among states with similar outlooks with these crimes.
Sexting is Not Always a Crime
Because many states refuse to embrace child pornography laws for sexting crimes, there may not be criminal conduct simply because a sext exists. Advanced technology may prove this phenomenon obsolete once the fascination of this practice has passed. If an individual is under investigation for sending or receiving such images, a criminal defense lawyer should be consulted to help protect the individual’s rights.