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What are Sexting Laws and the Legal Issues

“Sexting” has become an all-too common aspect of life, even for people too young for exposure to such activities. Throughout the U.S., minors are using texting apps to send picture messages and video depicting themselves unclothed. These images are frequently traded for the same type of photos or video from other teens they know. Sometimes, people receiving the images are adults over the age of 18.

Each states’ laws vary in protection of youth from exploitation and child sex crimes, such as child pornography. But when kids themselves engage in sexting, they may even be breaking state and federal laws. Anytime you or someone in your family are accused of breaking such laws, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 has criminalized sexting with anyone under the age of eighteen. Sending, receiving, distributing, copying or performing related activities of child pornography are criminal acts under PROTECT laws. A federal crime has occurred when photos or video of naked children under the age of eighteen are sent to anyone. This can include a child sending a photo or video of this nature to another child.

Sexting Continues to Be a Problem

Although the PROTECT Act was enacted in 2003, sexting is still a major issue among teens. These youth usually send such images to other teens with whom they have a personal relationship. Other teens date people only a year or two older, with that person being a legal adult. But when a teen sends photos of their naked body to such an adult, they are still breaking state and federal laws. The same is true when the adult sends images to a teen significant other.

Things become much more dangerous when such photos are shared with other people. Forwarding is quick and easy on cell phones, just as it is easy to post such things on social media. Once the “send” button is pressed, there is no way to stop the sharing – or the crime – from occurring. In fact, at this point the image can be released to anyone in the world. Some of these images are used for very negative reasons. Often, teens are humiliated by peers using such photos to taunt them. There are a multitude of ways that these types of photos can harm a young adult.

Laws have had to catch up with technology in regard to child pornography, even inadvertent acts between youth. Unlike cameras of yesterday, when photos had to go through a lengthy developing process, today’s cameras shoot, present and publicize photos within seconds. Provocative photos continue to be sent more often as newer equipment and more technologically advanced cameras are developed.

A recent survey reported that more than 20 percent of teen females and 15 percent of male peers have sexted partially nude or completely nude images, whether by sending or receiving those photos or videos. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy compiled this survey to determine the effects of sexting among sexually active young adults.

Although many people believe that not knowing the act is illegal saves them from prosecution, this is unfortunately not true. Even if the teens are in a romantic relationship, they are still breaking the law.

Legal Issues of Sexting

There are a multitude of state and federal laws that may be broken each time sexting occurs. Electronic transmissions are considered interstate commerce, so federal law enforcement has jurisdiction for these crimes. State laws also apply, in the state where the activities occur.

In such cases, the charges are usually distribution and possession of child pornography. All of the penalties those charges carry are also applicable to these cases. These are significant charges with major, life-changing ramifications, regardless of who is behind or receiving the text. When federal laws are applied, a federal prison sentence of between five and fifteen years can result. There are also extensive fines and other penalties. Convicted parties may be required to register as a sex offender where they live.

When the convicted party is a first-time offender or underage, the sentence may be decreased. Of course, the particulars of a given case will come into play for the defense, in gaining reduced sentencing.

Protection of Children

Some states consider a 16 year old child as an adult in sexting cases. When an adult sends sexually explicit material to or receives the same from younger teens or children, life-long penalties can result. Much of this depends upon the state and federal charges issued in the case.

In cases of sexual exploitation of a minor, sex offender registration is often required. The guilty party, even if only 16 years of age at the time of the act, may have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his or her life. This registration can be reduced by some courts that may only require the penalty for several years. But if additional convictions arise for similar crimes, sex offender registration is more likely permanent.

Sexting, from a Legal Standpoint

Sexting involving teens with other teens or adults may result in use of the material by a sexual predator. From that predator’s use, other youth may be lured to share images of themselves. Sharing the images outside the confines the original party intended leads to charges for other crimes.

In any cases involving the serious charges of sexual exploitation of a minor or other sexting-related crimes, it is critical that a lawyer is obtained to help build a case to protect the defendant. An experienced criminal defense lawyer with extensive knowledge of state and federal criminal law in these matters is needed not just for development of a defense, but to mitigate penalties.

Call DM Cantor now at 602.307.0808 to set up a free one hour consultation regarding your case and to gain recommendations for your defense.

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