A federal appeals court today takes up the growing practice of “sexting” — in which teenagers transmit nude and semi-nude photos of themselves and others by phone — as the judges tackle the vexing question of whether such images can be deemed child pornography, reports the Legal Intelligencer. The appeal stems from a civil rights suit brought by three Pennsylvania girls against then-District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. alleging that he violated their First Amendment rights with his threat of a child pornography prosecution if they refused to take a class he had designed to educate youths about the dangers of sexting.
The case is the first to challenge the constitutionality of bringing child pornography charges in the context of sexting. After a wave of sexting was discovered among students in the Tunkhannock Area School District, Skumanick targeted 13 girls and three boys. Most agreed to take the class to avoid prosecution. Last March, a judge issued an injunction that blocked Skumanick from bringing the charges, declaring that the photographs were not child pornography under Pennsylvania law and were protected under the First Amendment. Marsha Levick and Riya Shah of the Juvenile Law Center argue in an amicus brief that sexting “represents the convergence of technology with adolescents’ developmental need to experiment with their sexual identity and explore their sexual relationships.”