In its various forms, “sexting” is the transmission of nude images or suggestive material via text messages. Such transmission can be textual or image-based and typically occurs via cell phones, smart phones, computers, etc. However, it is typically the latter, image-based transmission of nude, partially nude, and/or suggestive pictures of individuals, sometimes minors, that can potentially lead to criminal consequences.

Sexting: The Basics

Few criminal laws directly address sexting, at least as far as that term is used. Perhaps for that reason, however, when sexting involves pictures of minors it can run afoul of child pornography laws. Child porn production and distribution laws are some of the harshest felonies in the books, and when minors get caught up in these types of charges it can have very serious, long-lasting consequences.

Although many suggest that child porn laws should not be applied to sexting and related conduct by minors, sexting involving images of naked minors technically can fall within the broad reach of child pornography laws. As a result, it may be left to the discretion of prosecutors whether to bring such charges or not.

As this issue has gained more attention in the media and by lawmakers, some legislation has been proposed to more specifically address sexting. The approaches, however, vary widely. Some legislators and local authorities take a hard-line approach to sexting and may prosecute individuals sending or receiving nude or partial nude images of minors as discussed above, using existing child pornography laws. Other jurisdictions may attempt to use probation or other diversionary methods to educate and give minors a second chance. And some jurisdictions take the reverse approach and have considered specifically de-criminalizing sexting when done by minors and distributed amongst minors.

What Does This Mean For You?

The bottom line is that the laws in this area are generally either non-existent, or rapidly evolving and can differ quite dramatically by state or even by county. Depending on which laws apply to you, there can be major consequences for sexting, including prison time and even lifelong registration requirements. Registration also may involve the government placing you on a sex offender list, viewable to the public at large. So, whether you’re an adult or a minor, you may want to think twice before hitting the “send” button. Doing so could end up impacting you for the rest of your life, not to mention the harm it may cause to others.

As you can see, what you may think is a harmless text to a friend can turn into the basis for criminal charges, especially if minors are involved. As the article notes, there are different approaches by prosecutors depending on where you live.

This article is not intended to provide legal advice. For legal advice on any of the information in this post, please contact one of our attorneys. Browse our attorney profiles or contact us by phone: 805-452-7214.