On Thursday, according to Virginia Authorities, three teenage boys, two sixteen-year-olds and a fifteen-year-old from West Springfield High School, will be tried for child pornography as a result of “sexting.” The teenagers, according to a report, were caught sharing cellphone videos of themselves engaging in sex acts with at least six teenage girls. According to reports, the videos were made without the girl’s knowledge.
According to Rodney Leffler, attorney of one of the accused, the sex was consensual, and the girls were later made aware of the videos. Mr. Leffler also said that although the boys shared the videos with each other, they did not distribute them to anyone else.
Under Virginia law, “sexting” may be charged as a felony resulting in penalties of up to 20 years in prison and mandatory sex offender registry.
Some feel Virginia’s law is inadequate, too harsh and needs to be amended to take into account the current state of technology.
Many Parents have requested that new laws be drafted to address this inadequacy by distinguishing sexting from child pornography and providing lesser punishments and education for the guilty parties.
However, proposed bills to make sexting a misdemeanor have been rejected.
Legislators fear that a change in the law could create a loophole for pedophiles. According to State Del. David Albo, “Every time we try to write a carve-out for this specific situation, we just give the true sex predator a road map on how to commit a crime. You cannot make a mistake when you are drafting this type of a bill. The stakes are too high.”
Another concern: the victims. According to one Fairfax County Attorney, Ray Morrogh, prosecutors struggle with weighing the impact of a felony sex charge against the impact the sexted image or video has on the victim.
As to the impact on the accused, one mother, whose fifteen-year-old son with Asperger’s syndrome was charged with 12 counts of child pornography for texting a picture of a classmate topless said, “It was probably the worst point of our life. My son was in a severe depression. He is thinking his life was at an end. He could be labeled as a sex offender.”
But, the victims are also impacted gravely by sexting. For example, two teenagers in Ohio and Florida committed suicide after sexual images of them were sexted to other teens.
According to the National conference for State Legislatures, since 2009, at least twenty states have passed legislation on sexting many of which have created more lenient punishments for teens convicted of sexting.
What is the law in Arizona for Sexting?
According to Arizona Revised Statute 13-3553, sexting, or “sexual exploitation of a minor” is defined as “knowingly” photographing a minor engaged in sexual conduct and “distributing” the sexual image. Under Arizona law, “sexual exploitation of a minor” is a Class 2 Felony.
Punishment for sexting in Arizona depends on the age of the accused as well as the age of the victim. For example, if the victim is under the age of 12 and the accused is over the age of 18, under Arizona Revised Statute 13-705, the accused could face life in prison.
If the accused is under the age of 18, and “knowingly or intentionally uses an electronic communication devise to transmit or display a sexually explicit depiction of a minor to one other person,” he may be charged with a petty offense punishable by a maximum $300 fine for each sexual image sent to another person. But, if the juvenile sends the image to more than one other person, he/she may be charged with a Class 3 Misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500 per image and up to 30 days in jail.
Under Arizona law, a juvenile who receives a sexually explicit text message may avoid prosecution by taking the following steps: (1) he/she must not solicit the message, (2) he/she must take reasonable steps to delete or destroy the image, (3) he/she must report the image to a guardian, parent, school official or law enforcement agency, and (4) he/she must refuse to forward the message to any other person.
The juvenile attorneys at the law firm Oracle Law Group encourage parents to speak with their children about sexting and the dire consequences to both the victim and the accused that may result from it.
If your child has been charged with sexting, contact the juvenile law attorneys at Oracle Law Group for experienced juvenile defense.