In March 2004, two Florida teens—17-year-old male “J.G.W.” and 16-year-old female “A.H.,” as court records refer to them—photographed themselves engaged in sex acts. Then they sent the pictures from A.H.’s computer to J.G.W.’s email account. It’s not exactly clear how, but the photos soon wound up in the hands of the police. Both teenagers were charged with producing child pornography.
The sex acts themselves were not illegal; both teens were over Florida’s age of consent. It was the documentation of the sex acts that was illegal, because the federal child pornography ban defines a child as anyone under 18. In essence, they were arrested for exploiting themselves.
In February 2007, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal upheld the teenagers’ convictions. Judge James Wolf explained that the two minors “could have” sold or distributed the pictures—never mind that they didn’t. He added that because the duo “placed the photos on a computer and then, using the Internet, transferred them to another computer,” they took a risk that other people would see the pictures, since their computers or email accounts could have been hacked.
In the most bizarre part of the opinion, Judge Wolf wrote that “if these pictures are ultimately released, future damage may be done to these minors’ careers or personal lives.” The judge didn’t say anything about what a felony child pornography conviction might do to their “careers or personal lives.”