Every now and then lawmaking goes delightfully, rather than horribly, wrong. Today in this rare but beautiful category: a Flordia law meant to criminalize teen sexting actually makes it impossible for the state to prosecute teens for sending each other sexual images.
Mark Joseph Stern at Slate explains:
In 2011, the legislature passed a "sexting" statute barring minors from sending images of nudity (their own or somebody else's) to other minors. The first offense would qualify as only a civil infraction; minors who violated the law would merely have to perform court-ordered community service or pay a $60 fine. The second and third offenses, however, would qualify as misdemeanors, while the fourth offense would qualify as a felony.
Under this law, Florida prosecutors thought they had a slam-dunk case when they brought charges against a minor who texted a picture of her own vagina to a classmate because she was "bored." But the state quickly ran into a problem: Florida law doesn't give any court jurisdiction of civil infractions by juveniles—as opposed to criminal infractions—and the sexting statute doesn't grant any court this kind of jurisdiction. Accordingly, no court in the state currently has legal authority to hear a case involving minors sexting. The prosecutors attempting to prosecute the sexting teen got their case thrown out of court, a decision an appeals court later affirmed.
Because no one can be convicted of a first offense, there's no charging teens for subsequent offenses either, obviously. Now that the state knows the statute stinks, however, it probably won't be long until they amend it to legitimize their batshit insane aims.
Florida isn't the only state that thinks criminalizing consensual communication between teens is somehow a worthwhile (and constitutional) activity. In Pennsylvania, it's a crime for a minor to share nude images of anyone ages 12-17, including themselves. In Arizona, it's a misdemeanor for a juvenile to send or receive a nude or sexually-explicit picture. And these are just a few examples. I've been cataloguing a bunch of recent instances of police treating teen sexting as a criminal matter (results coming soon!) across the country. Of course, the teen sexting panic has been building for years now—here's Jacob Sullum writing about teen sexters arrested on child pornography charges in 2009 in Pennsylvania. More instances of such silliness here, here, here, and here.