Sexting

Prosecutor, Legislator Blame Each Other for Derailing Teen's Future Over Sexting Charge

Teen loses cell phone privileges, constitutional rights.

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Cormega Copening, the North Carolina 17-year-old charged with sexual exploitation for keeping pictures of himself on his cell phone accepted a plea deal to avoid jail time and registration on the sex offender registry.

Copening and his girlfriend, Brianna Denson, found themselves caught in a nefarious legal paradox as a result of the sexually provocative texts they exchanged when they were both 16. North Carolina law holds that anyone 16 or older can consent to sex and be charged as an adult for criminal sentencing purposes; perversely, it also considers everyone under the age of 18 to be minors for sexual exploitation purposes. This means that Copening and Denson were legally allowed to have sex, but not to keep nude pictures of themselves on their own phones—and can be sentenced as adults for exploiting minors, even though they are the minors who were exploited, according to the law.

Copening cut a deal with prosecutors obligating him to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of disseminating harmful materials to minors while avoiding the felony charges. (Denson worked out a similar arrangement.)

That's fairly good news for the teen—he avoids the worst possible consequences of his mildly inappropriate actions.

Still, Copening will be on probation for a year, under terms that are disruptive to the life of a young person, according to the Fayetteville Observer's Paul Woolverton:

District Court Judge April Smith sentenced Copening to a year of probation. During that year, her order says, Copening must stay in school, take a class on making good decisions, complete 30 hours of community service, not use or possess alcohol or illegal drugs, not possess a cellphone and must submit to warrantless searches.

The order to stay in school is acceptable; the loss of cell phone privileges and surrendering of constitutional rights is not. Again, is the state not, in some sense, punishing the victim of a sex crime—if having naked pictures of oneself is indeed a crime?

As for taking a class on making good decisions, perhaps the cops and prosecutors can sign up, too. None want to admit responsibility for this violation of common sense and bodily autonomy, according to Woolverton:

On Tuesday, Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler said he didn't necessarily agree with the use of felony charges against these two teens, but his deputies have to enforce the law as it's written.

District Attorney Billy West has the authority to reduce or dismiss criminal charges. He said Friday that his office made the right decisions in this case. His assistant reduced the charges to misdemeanors in plea bargains with the two teens. The arrangement holds the teens responsible and punishes them for their acts, but should ultimately leave them with no convictions on their records.

"The legislature has obviously criminalized the conduct, arguably at a more serious level than we resolved the case at," West said Friday. "Seemingly it would be that they did not think it was good public policy for these young people to be exchanging these sort of photographs with their phone."

West wouldn't debate the policy. "The legislature makes the law; I enforce it," he said.

The legislators who approved the law claim told Woolverton it shouldn't have been applied in such a manner and chided the prosecutor for not exercising better discretion:

 "I would think normally as a matter of prosecutorial discretion you would not charge a minor with sending a minor — having her own picture or sending to another minor — (that) would seem to me not the thing that most prosecutors are elected to do," said state Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam of Wake County, who also is a lawyer.

Stam's legislation in 1990 created the felony offense of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor. It was intended to crack down on people who sexually abuse and sexually exploit children, he said.

Nonetheless, teens shouldn't get carte blanche to make sexually explicit photos of themselves, Stam said.

"This is not a good use of the prosecutor's time, or discretion, but you can't make it so that it's totally legal for 16- and 17-year-olds to do this because then the criminal gangs that are primarily involved in trafficking would just use 16- and 17-year-olds as their disseminators or as part of their operation," Stam said.

I have absolutely no idea what Stam is talking about here—Criminal gangs of child pornographers using teens to create and disseminate their material? What?—and I'm not about to Google the relevant key words. But this does not seem like a danger that actually exists. On the other hand, there is a gang of government actors who turned a harmless teen into both a victim, and a perpetrator, of sexual exploitation. Because of their actions, his name and picture are forever associated with sex crimes.

Thankfully, at least the damage to his school year seems to have been minimized. While his high school was initially obligated to suspend him as quarterback of the football team, he was allowed back on the field last weekend.

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  1. Criminal gangs of child pornographers using teens to create and disseminate their material

    DAMN IT! They’re on to me! Quick – hide!

      1. He’s not only a client; he’s the club president.

    1. These gangs are lurking in our midst as we speak, and it’s a sad sign for the future of this nation. The Internet should never be used to disseminate any illicit messages, whether they consist in pornographic images or inappropriately deadpan “parodies” designed to “twist words” and “stir up controversy.” See the documentation of insidious dissemination techniques at:

      http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpr…..rsonation/

  2. North Carolina law holds that anyone 16 or older can consent to sex and be charged as an adult for criminal sentencing purposes; perversely, it also considers everyone under the age of 18 to be minors for sexual exploitation purposes. This means that Copening and Denson were legally allowed to have sex, but not to keep nude pictures of themselves on their own phones?and can be sentenced as adults for exploiting minors, even though they are the minors who were exploited, according to the law.

    Kafka was ahead of his time.

    1. I suspect that Kafka would nod knowingly, sadly too.

      1. He might, but in view of an amendment to one of his novels, he would also probably be busy reading the documentation of America’s leading criminal satire case at:

        http://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  3. The order to stay in school is acceptable; the loss of cell phone privileges and surrendering of constitutional rights is not.

    Ordering someone to do something that they may or may not wish to do that has absolutely nothing to do with the charges involved and interferes with their ability to move freely and choose the directions they wish to take in life is acceptable? It’s *not* interfering with constitutional rights?

    Interesting. We must have different opinions on which rights people actually have.

    1. I order you to shut your stupid face.

      1. That’s funny, I just said the exact same thing to your mom. After telling her to open it first, of course.

    2. And why is an order to do anything acceptable when the “crime” involved is 100% bullshit anyway?

      1. I’ve always wondered why a judge can order a person to do anything other than be taken to jail or pay fines (this is within the framework of a legal system, my own anarchism aside). How can a judge order you not to drink alcohol? Or stay in school?

        I realize that offering a choice, like “join the Marines or do time” or “do community service or do time” is less an order than an offer, but “you must stay in school” makes no sense. Who the fuck does the judge think they are?

        1. It is a choice.

          “If you don’t want to go to jail do x, y, and z. If you don’t do that we will bring these other charges against you and you will go to jail.”

          See.

          1. Having a monopoly on force means you’re always right.

          2. I suppose. It’s just always amazed me how a judge can bring their own biases to bear in sentencing (school is good, I will threaten you with jail unless you stay in school, etc), and no one blinks an eye, instead of expecting as much impartiality as possible.

            But then again, there is no such thing as rule of law, only rule of man, so I don’t know why I’m surprised.

            1. Too many people think that statutes are the “rule of law”. If a person or designated group of people have the power to make virtually any law they can imagine, that is not the rule of law nor is what flows from such an institution. It’s the rule of arbitrary power or the rule of man as you say.

              The rule of law would feature a system of law and jurisprudence that develops naturally and rationally as possible. A system where people discover the law, not make it up as they go.

              1. ^^^^^ This. Yes! It isn’t a law unless most people actually accept it as a law. Otherwise, it’s merely a tyrannical abuse of power and legal authority.

        2. Don’t forget ordering you to get married.

          Regardless of whether your girlfriend wants to.

          1. Women exist to please the man, Nicole. This fact has a proud history in all major monotheistic religions and also apparently American jurisprudence.

            1. Women exist to please the man, Nicole. This fact has a proud history in all major monotheistic religions

              That’s false. The perspective in traditional Jewish law is that men are to please their wives. The witholding of sex by either party is seen as grounds for divorce; however, one cannot force ones spouse to have sex, as Jewish law recognized the concept of marital rape.

              1. Sex is the woman’s right, not the man’s. A man has a duty to give his wife sex regularly and to ensure that sex is pleasurable for her. He is also obligated to watch for signs that his wife wants sex, and to offer it to her without her asking for it. The woman’s right to sexual intercourse is referred to as onah, and it is one of a wife’s three basic rights (the others are food and clothing), which a husband may not reduce. The Talmud specifies both the quantity and quality of sex that a man must give his wife. It specifies the frequency of sexual obligation based on the husband’s occupation, although this obligation can be modified in the ketubah (marriage contract). A man may not take a vow to abstain from sex for an extended period of time, and may not take a journey for an extended period of time, because that would deprive his wife of sexual relations. In addition, a husband’s consistent refusal to engage in sexual relations is grounds for compelling a man to divorce his wife, even if the couple has already fulfilled the halakhic obligation to procreate.

                Although sex is the woman’s right, she does not have absolute discretion to withhold it from her husband. A woman may not withhold sex from her husband as a form of punishment, and if she does, the husband may divorce her without paying the substantial divorce settlement provided for in the ketubah.

                1. Shut up, HM, I’m just here to make misogynistic jokes, not to learn things about one of the world’s major religions.

                  Pshaw.

          2. “Whereas I have a ham dinner with mayonnaise waiting for me at my mansion, I find the defendant guilty. Santa Claus, I hereby sentence you to be executed at sundown.”

            1. Of course the sort of inhuman monster who would execute Santa Claus would eat ham with mayonnaise.

          3. Go make me a sandwich.

  4. “District Attorney Billy West has the authority to reduce or dismiss criminal charges. He said Friday that his office made the right decisions in this case.”

    No, they fucking didn’t.

    1. here’s that dipshit:

      http://www.fayobserver.com/new…..b274b.html

      4-year terms for a DA. West was first elected in 2010. I really hope this major fuck up on his part comes back to haunt him at his next election. Maybe if we’re lucky he’ll commit suicide and blow his own brains out.

      1. Whoa, WHOA. Watch the hate speech.

  5. Copening cut a deal with prosecutors obligating him to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of disseminating harmful materials to minors while avoiding the felony charges.

    While I understand why he took that deal, it makes me angry that he felt he had to. The prosecutor should be run out on a rail.

  6. It’s time to drop the pretense that we have jury trial in this country except in exceptional cases.

    Plea negotiations are where it’s at. It’s how most criminal trials are conducted.

    Yet lawyers get extensive training on the law of evidence, and other theoretical topics, rather than on how to handle the vast majority of cases through negotiation.

    1. Maybe Trump could teach The Art of the Deal and the law schools could ditch most of the evidence classes.

    2. Trials are for people who are presumed innocent. Plea bargains are for people presumed guilty.

      1. Thank you – I myself have linked to it before.

        One of these days I’ll read it.

      2. Thank you, it was interesting.

  7. “I would think normally as a matter of prosecutorial discretion you would not charge a minor with sending a minor ? having her own picture or sending to another minor ? (that) would seem to me not the thing that most prosecutors are elected to do,” said state Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam of Wake County, who also is a lawyer.

    Well I would think normally as a matter of sanity you would not make this a crime to begin with. You know, you, as a fucking legislator.

    Oh, wait, no, I wouldn’t. Because…you’re a fucking legislator.

    All of these people deserve some private justice from the kids.

    1. But if they didn’t, criminal gangs of child pornographers would just use 16 and 17 year olds to distribute! Duh! After all, the average age a woman enters into prostitution is, like, 2, right?

  8. Thankfully, at least the damage to his school year seems to have been minimized. While his high school was initially obligated to suspend him as quarterback of the football team, he was allowed back on the field last weekend.

    Well, thank goodness. I was really worried about him there for a sec.

    1. Look, HoD, if he wasn’t allowed to play football, he might notice he is, in fact, in jail 5 days a week.

      1. It’s really disingenuous to compare public schools and prisons. One of the two is staffed with domineering wardens who psychologically and spiritually break down an inmate’s will, and the other serves three meals a day.

        1. Resolved: children who go to prison are better adjusted than children who attend public schools.

      2. It was the only reason I went half the time.

  9. Cormega Copening, the North Carolina 17-year-old charged with sexual exploitation for keeping pictures of himself on his cell phone accepted a plea deal to avoid jail time and registration on the sex offender registry.

    You can’t unring the bell. So henceforth, whenever an employer looks up ‘Cormega Copening’, this will be on the first page. Cormega will never get a job at a agency with a human resources department.

    Plus 1 for the team.

    1. So he gets a government job then. Or starts his own counseling business.

  10. “This is not a good use of the prosecutor’s time, or discretion, but you can’t make it so that it’s totally legal for 16- and 17-year-olds to do this because then the criminal gangs that are primarily involved in trafficking would just use 16- and 17-year-olds as their disseminators or as part of their operation,” Stam said.

    There’s only room for speculating on unintended consequences when the topic of rolling back laws comes up. Considering theoretical outcomes when you’re implementing new laws? What, are you Nostradamus?

  11. I wouldn’t know, but I would hardly be surprised if there are criminal gangs who sell sexual images of minors to people who get off on that sort of thing.

    So you could make it case to make it a *minor* (so to speak) offense to store images like this – or I should say, to send it to a third party. But unless there’s an intent to assist in child porn, I don’t think it should be a serious crime for juveniles to do this.

    And as for two juveniles to share photos with each other, rather than with third parties, I’m wondering how this even gets discovered by police in the first place.

    1. so you could make *a* case

    2. But unless there’s an intent to assist in child porn, I don’t think it should be a serious crime for juveniles to do this.

      But it should be a crime of some sort?

      1. A few days in the stocks should suffice as punishment.

        And the flogging. But that should go without saying.

        1. “In retrospect, indulging sexual fetishes was not the most effective form of punishment…”

  12. Those goddam immigruntz, imposing their sharia laws on us freedom loving Amurricans!

    1. Nicely done.

  13. Has it ever come out why this poor kid’s phone got searched to begin with?

    1. standard child porn sweep, necessary to insure we are aware of the totality of the circs

      *smooches*

    2. Never found out. I just assumed some stupid kids told a teacher who told the principal who reported it to the cops who then seized his phone. And in order to prevent the two kids’ lives from being ruined by sexting, the Cumberland County govt preemptively ruined their lives. Well done, Cumberland County. Job well done.

    3. They were trying to see if he had stored images of himself posing with a Confederate flag. Fortunately, they only found child porn.

    4. There was an “allegation of sexual exploitation” at this high school and investigators asked his mother for permission to look at this ‘phone. She, foolishly, OKed them. The girl’s parents aren’t mentioned in any stories so I wonder if they filed the complaint – although their daughter was also charged.

      1. Awesome parenting, all around.

  14. Cumberland County Sheriff Moose Butler

    Moose Butler.

    Moose. Bulter.

    Moose.

    1. I bet he says “sumbitch” a lot.

    2. Heroic Mulatto

      Heroic Mulatto

      You are not a mulatto as in half-white, half-black. You’re a mutt with some Asian genes. If my muttdar is out of calibration let me know.

      1. Muttatto / Muttayto.

    3. I once shot a moose in my pajamas. What it was doing in my pajamas I don’t know.

  15. “The legislature makes the law; I enforce it,” he said.

    Any cop or prosecutor who says this should be bludgeoned with a stone axe.
    Those motherfuckers lobby for laws like this nonstop.

  16. You know whow else was only enforcing the law?

    1. That judge that threw Kim Davis in the slammer?

      1. Theophilus Eugene Connor?

        Menelaus “Pass the Biscuits, Pappy” O’Daniel?

  17. because then the criminal gangs that are primarily involved in trafficking would just use 16- and 17-year-olds as their disseminators or as part of their operation,” Stam said.

    I’m with Rico here. What the fuck is he talking about? Should I be checking under my bed every night for these boogeymen?

    1. Should I be checking under my bed covers every night for these boogeymen?

      And yes. Until your testicles drop, the danger is very real.

      1. You were sworn to secrecy on my un-descended testicles, HoD.

        1. I swear, he said he was legal age!

      2. I looked under my covers and found one.

        /winks

  18. I want the officer who pressed the charges to shoot herself in the head with her service pistol, for the prosecutor to jump off the tallest building in town and dive head first towards the ground below, and for the judge, who did not immediately toss out the charges for how ridiculous this all was, to take a bottle of Drano and drink down the entire contents of the bottle.

    People may say that is harsh, but if you are willing to destroy someone’s life over a victimless “crime”, you should kill yourself.

    I’m not advocating anyone take any actions against those three… simply that those three do the rest of society a favor and personally take themselves out.

    Of course, I will accept that they won’t have to if they 1) drop all charges and expunge the kids’ records of the incident, 2) personally apologize on national TV for their stupidity, and 3) resign from their positions and take no compensation for those positions (retirements, pensions, severance pay, etc) as well as never taking another government position ever, and 4) pay back any legal fees incurred by the kids and families because of this.

    If they choose not to do those 4 things, they should kill themselves.

    1. The most that maybe should have happened would have been to notify the parents.

      1. Exactly. The parents should be the ones to handle it. 20 years ago, that would have been what happened… maybe an ass whoopin’ or two by the parents with phones taken away and such. Then again, most of these things would be handled by parents, not the law.

  19. The legislator is an idiot, but he’s right — the prosecutor can and should have had the brains not to prosecute this case.

    1. The first people who should be held to account for bad laws are those who wrote them. Otherwise, there will just be more bad laws.

      1. It never occurred to him that a minor might want a nude picture of himself or herself to exist. These politicians are simple folk.

      2. All laws are bad if they are enforced without common sense.

        1. Then all laws are bad, because there is no such thing as “common sense”.

  20. Strikes me that the blame for this fiasco might be equally shared among 4 groups/individuals.

    1. The prosecution, which could have and should have tossed the entire case.
    2. The legislature, which enacted the relevant legislation.
    3. The electorate, which likely does not pay sufficient attention to the antics of it’s elected representatives.
    4. The judge, who perhaps could have also tossed the case, but didn’t.
    5. Lastly, the two teens who perhaps should have shown better judgement, but then can we reasonably expect “good judgement” from teens. I would think perhaps, but then what the hell do I know.

  21. To quote Dickens, “The law is a ass”.

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  23. To prevent this in the future, no one under 18 (or 26 if on their parent’s health-care policy) will be allowed to have a cell phone that does anything more than just make and receive calls.
    Problem solved.

  24. Pros3cutors have abdolutely unchallengeable DISCRETION as to who they charge and for what crime AND as to what resolution they will accept.
    Billy boy is lying

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