October 20, 2012

New bill gives teens less severe penalties for 'sexting'

10-20-2012 Pennsylvania:

fter a teenage girl was slapped with felony child pornography charges for posting a video on Facebook that showed two other teens engaging in a consensual sex act, a Lehigh County judge this summer dismissed the charges, calling them "an overreaction by law enforcement."

Judge Robert L. Steinberg said teens who text nude images of other teens should not face child porn charges and urged lawmakers to create a more appropriate law.

Steinberg got his wish this week.

The state House and Senate approved a bill Wednesday designed to punish minors with less severe options than under previous law for "sexting," or sending nude photos of themselves or other teens who are 12 and up by cellphone or other electronic transmission.

The new law would make it a summary offense or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances, rather than a felony child porn charge currently filed in such cases.

Under the new law, minors who possess or distribute a sexually explicit image of another minor who is 12 or older can be charged. If the person in the photo or video is under 12, the teen can still be charged with felony child porn offense.

A minor charged under the new law could be ordered to take part in an educational program designed to deter teens from sexting to get the charges expunged.

The bill awaits the signature of Gov. Tom Corbett, which is likely, administration spokeswoman Janet Kelley said.

Sexting has been an issue throughout the country. Locally, authorities in 2008 threatened to file child porn charges against dozens of Parkland High School students after nude images of underage girls circulated on cellphones. No one ended up being charged.

Last year, several nude photos of Emmaus High School students popped up on a pornographic website.

"We recognize that this is an issue among teens and we want to fight the issue, but not have it impact them for the rest of their lives," said Shawn Wagner, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and a proponent of the bill.

The penalties in the bill punish teens without subjecting them to lifelong consequences such as registering as a sex offender under ...continued... by Kevin Amerman and John L. Micek

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