November 15, 2015

Prosecutors Weigh Teenage Sexting: Folly or Felony?

11-15-15 Colorado:

The high school sweethearts were 16 when they traded nude cellphone pictures. There was no evidence of coercion or harassment. But under a literal interpretation of North Carolina law, each had distributed child pornography.

In February, prosecutors in Fayetteville charged the two teenagers with the felony of “exploiting a minor,” which could have brought them years in prison and decades on the sex offender registry, for privately sharing images of themselves.

After an outcry, both were eventually allowed to plead, instead, to misdemeanors. They were put on a year’s probation.

Whether and how to charge teenage sexters has become a quandary for prosecutors nationwide, forcing them to weigh when to muster the harsh force of criminal justice, often with ill-fitting laws from a pre-Internet era, and when to back off and let schools and families deal with youthful indiscretions.

Facing those choices on a large scale now, in the glare of national attention, is Thom LeDoux, the district attorney in the county that includes CaƱon City, Colo., where more than 100 students at the high school were apparently exchanging nude pictures.

Mr. LeDoux said in a telephone interview that he does not plan to file charges against those who simply passed around pictures. But felony charges could be in store for some, he added — if an adult was involved; if there was evidence of coercion, illegal sexual activity or bullying; or if pictures were posted on public websites.

Erotically charged cellphone pictures or videos passed around by teenagers often meet the legal definition of child pornography, making them the subject of felony laws that were written with true predators in mind. So when a 16-year-old girl emails a raunchy picture of herself to a boy, she has in theory created and distributed child pornography. If the boy sends the picture to 20 others, he has distributed, and they all have possessed, child pornography. ..Continued.. by ERIK ECKHOLM

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