Under current state law, children over the age of 13 who transmit or possess child pornography could be charged with a misdemeanor. Due to a legal loophole, younger children could face a more serious felony charge. But now there’s an effort to revise the law that governs juveniles who sext.
Back in 2010, lawmakers passed a bill that gave a lighter penalty to teenagers who engage in sexting. The point, according to attorney Leon Smith, was to avoid the long-term consequences of a felony charge.
“What they did not want is a situation where a 15-year-old and a 14-year-old are dating and sending pictures back and forth to each other,” Smith said. “And then suddenly they break up, and then you have these children -- who have the photographs of another child -- facing and having these serious felony consequences."
But Smith, who works for the Center for Children’s Advocacy, said the otherwise well-intentioned law had a big problem: It didn’t apply to people younger than 13. Smith and others believe legislators just didn’t expect children younger than 13 to be sexting -- hence the loophole.
“So, you have a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old that are dating, and in their first boyfriend, girlfriend relationship, and they’re sending photographs back and forth,” Smith said. “You don’t want a situation where the 13-year-old is only subject to a misdemeanor, and then the 12-year-old -- because of this sort of loophole in the law... the law only provides for them to potentially be charged with a felony.”
The measure has the support of the state Division of Criminal Justice, unanimously passed the House, and is before the State Senate. Smith said it's not about condoning sexting, but rather about not punishing children too harshly.