Sexting is defined as the act of transmitting sexually explicit messages, primarily through the use of cell phone text messaging. The messages usually contain illicit photographs or video links depicting the person sending them. They can be sent from one person to another, and sometimes they may be sent to mass recipients.

This usually implies that the person sending the pictures is sending explicit pictures of themselves through various means, including:

  • Cell phone text messaging
  • E-mails
  • Cyber chat
  • Social media websites
  • Various other means of electronic communication

What States are Prosecuting Sexting Charges?

Many states impose criminal penalties for sexting. Sexting usually falls under the umbrella of child pornography laws. Sexting is specifically illegal in several states, and at least 20 others are considering criminalizing the act. Some states that are known to prosecute for sexting charges include Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming.

Depending on the circumstances of the images sent, sexting may also be a crime under the federal law. Federal law also criminalizes coercing a minor to take part in sexually explicit conduct in order to visually depict that conduct.

What Are the Penalties for a Sexting Charge?

In most states, sexting is considered a felony if images of minors (persons under the age of 18) are received or are in the possession of an adult. This results in charges similar to possession of child pornography.

Penalties differ depending on whether the defendant is a minor or adult.

Juvenile Penalties:

  • Warning: Juvenile judges can give the juvenile a verbal warning that can later be upgraded if the offense happens again.
  • Fines: Fines in each state differ, but in some cases they can be very large.
  • Community Service: A juvenile may have to perform any number of community service hours.
  • Counseling:  The court may order a juvenile to attend therapy
  • Probation:  A juvenile may get a probation officer from the court and must report to a probation officer on a daily basis. The probation may also require the juvenile to maintain specific school attendance and GPA.

Adult Penalties:

  • Jail Term: An adult found guilty of possessing child pornography could be in prison for five years or more depending on the age and nature of the photos or messages.
  • Fines: Fines could amount to well over $5,000 depending on the severity of the pictures being sent to the minor.
  • Sex offender registry: Adults and even juveniles convicted of a sexting crime are considered sex offenders and must register themselves with a state sex offender registry.

What Are the Defenses to A Sexting Charge?

In most instances, the best defense to sexting charges is that of consent. If both parties consented to the sext messages, then they may possibly face misdemeanor charges rather than felony charges. However, consent would not matter if one of the parties is a minor.

Additionally, there is a growing legislative movement to do away with felony charges for sexting. Teens engaging in consensual sexting would only receive misdemeanor charges. Many states are now implementing these changes.

However, felony charges will remain in place for adults who engage in sexting and for teens that engage in sexting without the other person’s consent. Be sure to double-check with an attorney or your local municipality for the details of your jurisdiction’s sexting laws and for possible defenses.

How Can Sexting Be Prevented?

Parents who are concerned about whether their children are engaged in sexting should discuss with them the dangers involved in such practices. Sexting has led to incidents of abuse and can often cause major damage to the teen’s reputation and social life. As mentioned, sext messages can easily be distributed to a large group of people or classmates.

Parents should also inform their children of the severe legal consequences associated with sexting. In general, parents will not be held liable for children who choose to send sext messages. However, the parent may become liable for other issues such as negligence or child neglect. This can happen if they know that their child is in a precarious situation and yet fail to take measures to report or prevent the wrongdoing.

Finally, as a response to the phenomenon of sexting, many states are now offering educational programs intended to alert teens to the dangers of sexting. A number of school districts also currently include a discussion of sexting as part of their sex education curriculum. As a preventative measure, concerned parents can direct their children to such programs.

Do I need a Lawyer for Sexting charges?

Sexting charges are very serious and can carry with them felony or misdemeanor charges, which can stay permanently on one’s record. Obtaining a lawyer is essential if you are faced with a legal dispute over sexting issues. This is especially true if the defendants are minors who are facing heavy legal consequences. A criminal defense lawyer can help determine the proper course of action under your state’s sexting laws.