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What does the law say about teen sexting?

One growing phenomenon that brings with it a lot of controversy and confusion is sexting, or the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone. This has become a tricky legal issue when it comes to teens. Being charged with a sex crime can radically alter someone’s life and future. One persistent question that comes up with this topic: Is consensual sexting between teens a crime?

The distribution of nude/explicit images or videos of a minor is typically considered child pornography. But what if a minor takes pictures of herself and sends them to a romantic partner? This could leave her in an uncomfortable legal double bind as both victim and offender.  Specifically, one of the charges could be disseminating indecent material to minors, and this is a registerable sex offense.

The other charge could be promoting a sexual performance by a child, and an article in the Huffington Post defines it as: "[the dissemination of] graphic images to a minor depicting nudity or sexual conduct and a luring prong that requires inviting, or inducing a minor to engage in sexual activity.”

Both charges are class D felonies--serious charges where one can receive up to five years of jail time. In New York, the age of criminal responsibility is 16, while the age of consent for sex is 17.

In the past few years, New York state lawmakers passed legislation that allows courts and prosecutors to give teens the option to complete an eight-hour educational class, dropping the criminal charges. Other states have passed similar measures. Many prosecutors are weighing the long-lasting effects such charges can bring onto a young person’s life, even if they are never convicted (e.g., applying to college and for jobs).

If you’re a teenager facing charges related to sexting, or if your child is facing these charges, please seek help from an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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Robert D. DiDio
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