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Will Reducing Penalties for Sexting Encourage Prosecution?

The voluntary exchange of pictures by teenagers should not be treated as a crime at all.

Colorado Film Commission, via KOAAColorado Film Commission, via KOAAA bill making its way through the Kansas legislature would change most sexting offenses involving teenagers from felonies to misdemeanors, a reform that could backfire if it makes prosecutors less reluctant to bring charges.

Under current Kansas law, transmitting nude pictures of a teenager, even if that teenager is you, is a Level 5 felony, carrying a prison sentence of about three years for someone with no prior record, along with lifetime registration as a sex offender. The proposed law, which is expected to get a vote today in the state House, would make possessing a nude image of a 12-to-16-year-old a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, when the defendant is a minor. Transmitting such an image would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

Any defendant obviously would prefer the lighter penalties, but their availability might make prosecution more likely. Forced to choose between felony charges and no charges at all in a case involving teenagers sharing pictures of themselves with each other, any decent prosecutor would pick the latter option, as prosecutors in Colorado and Michigan recently did. But when a misdemeanor option is available, it may be tempting for prosecutors intent on teaching kids a lesson. The Topeka Capital-Journal paraphrases an author of the Kansas bill as saying "the moderated sanctions would permit prosecutors to intervene with young people who commit these acts."

One unambiguous improvement in the Kansas bill is that 17-year-olds could exchange pictures of each other without committing a felony or a misdemeanor, since 17 is the age of consent for sex in Kansas. But for anyone 18 or older, including a 17-year-old's boyfriend or girlfriend, those pictures would still count as child pornography, which does not make much sense. Furthermore, it's not clear why sexting by younger teenagers should be treated as any sort of crime, as opposed to a disciplinary issue for parents.

In Colorado, where District Attorney Thom LeDoux wisely decided against criminal charges after public school officials in Cañon City caught more than 100 students swapping nude photos of themselves, the "sexting scandal" has generated a new curriculum and a batch of state-sponsored public service announcements aimed at discouraging the practice. KOAA, the NBC station in Pueblo, reports that in one PSA "a boy warns a friend about another classmate who was caught sexting." The warning: "Whenever he moves, he gets to greet his new neighbors with, 'Hello, I'm a registered sex offender. Have some cookies.'" The implication—that lifelong registration as a sex offender is a natural and appropriate consequence of sexting, as well as a welcome deterrent to youthful misbehavior—is questionable, to say the least.

Colorado legislators, like their counterparts in Kansas, are considering a bill that would make sexting by teenagers a misdemeanor rather than a felony. "Some people in Canon City say something like this should have been around before investigators discovered hundreds of lewd photos of local teens being exchanged like trading cards," KOAA reports. In other words, disapproving adults are happy to treat sexting teenagers as criminals, as long as the penalties aren't unconscionably severe. That attitude suggests that if outright decriminalization is not on the table, keeping the current penalties may be preferable to reducing them.

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  • ||

    Leave these kids alone already you ignorant statist fucksticks. Or no, just go ahead and continue these incessant witchhunts based on your self righteous moral purity, one day there really will be a generation who rise up again to water the tree of liberty. Unnamed mulching devices could be involved.

  • Quixote||

    Come now, these are not "witch-hunts." This is an important crime-stopping tool. We are protecting the vagrant, wandering youths of this nation from their own baser instincts. A darn pity we can't stop and frisk them anymore. This is why we left Internet impersonation a misdemeanor too, so we can get these crooks without raising too many foolish "concerns." We try to get them with identity theft too which is a felony, but if that doesn't stick at least we get them on impersonation. A pity we can't use harassment though because of the "First Amendment" baloney coming from the liberals. See the documentation of America's leading criminal "satire" case at:

    https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  • creech||

    So, by this logic, making it a penalty punishable by death would make prosecutors even more reluctant to prosecute the teens; making zero prosecutions the end result most of us would applaud.

  • ||

    Unfortunately, the same statists that typically get on jurys and fail to indict cops for murder, would likely send these kids to prison for life.

  • ||

    a reform that could backfire if it makes prosecutors less reluctant to bring charges.

    I'm gonna have to go with the pragmatists on this one and take the risk that prosecutors aren't foaming at the mouth to rack up *misdemeanor* teen teen porn convictions.

    Even if they are, misdemeanor convictions beat felony for this sort of 'crime' any day of the week.

  • ||

    Does the misdemeanor get them on the sex pervert list? If so, I would say the distinction is small, since it's going to pretty much ruin their life anyway.

  • ||

    Seems like it's not explicitly included, which I seems to be a step up. Even if it is; given the option of being on the sex offender registry or going to prison and then going on the sex offender registry, I'd have to say the former is preferrable or representative of *some* progress.

  • Robert||

    Not if it becomes so widespread that by the time they grow up, everyone's a registered sex offender. Then it'd be like in that ad if the new neighbors say, "So are we. & everyone else we know."

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    "A bill making its way through the Kansas legislature would change most sexting offenses involving teenagers from felonies to misdemeanors, a reform that could backfire if it makes prosecutors less reluctant to bring charges."

    No, it couldn't backfire. I think it's better that many people get minor misdemeanors that don't matter much in the scheme of things than that one person gets nailed with a felony that ruins their life. If ten thousand people got tickets for not wearing a seatbelt, that's preferable to one person getting charged with a felony and spending 3 years in jail for not wearing a seatbelt.

    The fact this is even punishable by the state is a travesty though.

  • ||

    I think it's better that many people get minor misdemeanors that don't matter much in the scheme of things than that one person gets nailed with a felony that ruins their life.

    Every potential arrest is an opportunity for a cop to murder someone.

  • WTF||

    Arrest? Every encounter with a cop could end up with you getting murdered, whether you did anything wrong or not.

  • ||

    The warning: "Whenever he moves, he gets to greet his new neighbors with, 'Hello, I'm a registered sex offender. Have some cookies.'" The implication—that lifelong registration as a sex offender is a natural and appropriate consequence of sexting, as well as a welcome deterrent to youthful misbehavior—is questionable, to say the least.

    They've already been conditioned to believe that the right and proper consequence of exercising their own freedom of association by not living with their parents or going to school is kidnapping and possible assault, so why not?

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    I love PSAs based on the idea that it's your fault the state is abusing you for behavior that should not be criminal.

    Drug PSAs based solely on the fact that the government will ruin your life are my favorite kind.

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    "One unambiguous improvement in the Kansas bill is that 17-year-olds could exchange pictures of each other without committing a felony or a misdemeanor, since 17 is the age of consent for sex in Kansas."

    LOL, so currently the law in Kansas holds that at the age of 17 you can fuck each other but you can't exchange naked pictures you took during foreplay?

    That's a law so brilliant only a politician could have invented it.

  • ||

    Exchange them? I'm sure it's illegal to take them at all.

  • ||

    Is this the same state that is trying to sue their neighboring state because that state decided to use it's state rights and legalize a plant?

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    I believe it is also the state that took a woman's children away because she was using pot based medication that is completely legal ten miles away.

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    Right?

    On the other hand, I hate having to allow people to skinny dip in my pool at 3 am just because my neighbor does.

  • kbolino||

    On the other hand, I hate having to allow people to skinny dip in my pool at 3 am just because my neighbor does.

    The problem with trying to use an analogy to prove a point is that if you pick something not remotely analogous, then you fail to make the point.

  • Free Market Socialist $park¥||

    Because property rights are not property rights?

  • DarkHorseSki||

    As noted in the referenced, earlier, article about sexting... the whole crime issue referenced here is completely crap law.

  • ||

    As one of the plebs who has never had the privilege to hang around in the houses of state legislatures, I have to ask a simple question. When someone comes up with an idea like this, does any of the other members of said state body ever ask 'Where in the fuck did you get this idiotic idea from'? I mean, I'm just curious if that ever happens, or do we only elect idiots all of the time?

  • SugarFree||

    Most state legislatures are dumb, violent animals. They hear a noise, they charge. They step in a hole, they bellow. A fly bites them and they attack their brother in the herd.

    They react, that's all.

  • Roger the Shrubber||

    Kids are sexting. People think that is a bad thing. Legislators perceive a mandate to do something. Their only recourse is violence, so what do you think is going to happen?

  • Robert||

    I think the main reason people think it's a bad thing is because of the publicity these bizarre cases brings. People think, it's illegal, it's being prosecuted, so it must be awful.

  • sarcasmic||

    No one with the sense to ask such a question would ever choose to go into the business of writing legislation.

  • Rich||

    it's not clear why sexting by younger teenagers should be treated as any sort of crime, as opposed to a disciplinary issue for parents.

    Bullshit. It makes money for those involved in the legal system.

  • ||

    People need to understand that the government, being a parasite, looks for victims to fleece all the time. The "justice system" is mostly designed to strip the vulnerable/poor/stupid of cash, because those are easy targets and victims. Is it any surprise that the government has turned its sights on goofy naive teenagers? They're fantastic victims. They do dumb shit because they're young, they have no idea how to defend themselves, and they often have parents with some money to steal.

    The more voracious the government gets, the more money it needs (and it ALWAYS needs more), the more people will be targeted by it. Expect constant expansion into new areas of victims, and realize that each new one will be one of the more vulnerable groups the government can find, because that's what it seeks out.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    "Forced to choose between felony charges and no charges at all in a case involving teenagers sharing pictures of themselves with each other, any decent prosecutor would pick the latter option"

    Maybe, but the decent prosecutors are all out riding unicorns, and they've left things in the hands of the kind of prosecutor who *isn't* decent.

  • Robert||

    I saw that on the subway, didn't think it was supposed to be a child.

  • Sevo||

    Just drove by a billboard:
    "1 on 5 children is sexually-abused on line"

    Bull
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    shit.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Ban teledildonics now!

  • patskelley||

    Imagine the prison chatter: What you in the clink for...? Showing my #$%@. I vote for this. Catch kids doing something really stupid. Gather them up and show them why what they did was stupid. Send them to summer school (oh the horror). Repeat offenders get to repeat the grade till they are mature enough to pass.

  • Robert||

    What do you want to do, play chicken w prosecutors? Why not raise the penalty to death, & see who blinks 1st, huh?

  • Robert||

    Damn, creech, why do you have to get up so early?

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