Prosecutors Weigh Sexting Cases; When Do Child Porn Penalties Apply?


Whether and how to charge teenage sexters has become a quandary for prosecutors, reports the New York Times. The cases force them to weigh when to use the harsh force of criminal justice, often with 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 is Thom LeDoux, district attorney in the county that includes Cañon City, Co., where more than 100 students at the high school were apparently exchanging nude photos. LeDoux does not plan to file charges against those who simply passed around pictures. Felony charges could be in store for some, 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 can fit the legal definition of child pornography, making them the subject of felony laws that were written with true predators in mind. When a 16-year-old girl emails a raunchy picture of herself to a boy, she has created and distributed child pornography. If the boy sends the picture to 20 others, he has distributed, and they all have possessed, child pornography. Few prosecutors want to ruin the lives of teens for one-time displays of immaturity. District attorneys must decide when are youthful actions so malicious or harmful that they should be prosecuted. Also, when are serious felony charges and perhaps lifetime branding as a sex offender called for, and when is probation or community service and counseling enough? About 20 states have new laws providing a less severe range of legal responses to personal photo-sharing, including misdemeanor charges that may be expunged, and required community service or counseling.

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