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Colorado Sexting Reforms Could Yield More Criminal Charges Against Teenagers

Lighter penalties are apt to encourage prosecution for behavior that shouldn't be a crime.

KOAAKOAAA Colorado bill that would reduce the criminal penalties for teenagers who exchange nude images of each other has run into opposition from critics who say it still treats such behavior too harshly. Under current law, consensual sexting involving anyone younger than 18 qualifies as "sexual exploitation of a child," a felony that triggers registration as a sex offender and a penalty of up to six years in prison, even for teenagers who take and send pictures of themselves. H.B. 1058 would make underage sexting a misdemeanor known as "misuse of electronic images by a juvenile," punishable by three to 12 months in jail, with no registration requirement. Although that sounds like a big improvement, lighter penalties are apt to encourage prosecution, and it is not clear why this sort of activity should be treated as a crime at all.

In Kansas, where the state Senate last month approved a similar bill, its chief sponsor explicitly argues that it will lead to more prosecution. "The reason this is the most underprosecuted juvenile crime is the punishment does not fit the crime," says Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg). The Colorado bill's supporters likewise argue that it gives prosecutors a less dauntingly draconian option for dealing with situations like last year's "sexting scandal" in Cañon City. In that case, which involved more than 100 high school students, the local district attorney decided not to bring any charges. If a misdemeanor charge had been available, he might have made a different choice.

"It's just not the right approach," Amy Hasinoff, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Colorado's Denver campus, told The Denver Post. "These prosecutors and these lawmakers think they can discourage sexting with these laws, but I don't think that's the case. That's not how it works with teen sex. Teens know sexting is risky, just like adults know it is risky. They both do it anyway." Another expert, testifying before the state legislature, complained that H.B. 1058 creates "a means for law enforcement to charge every juvenile involved in the creating of an image with a crime, even if it's a petty offense."

H.B. 1058 does give a teenager an affirmative defense against the new misdemeanor charge if he "did not solicit or request to be supplied with the image or images," "did not participate in or encourage the making of the image or images," "did not transmit or distribute the image or images to another person," and "took reasonable steps to either destroy or delete the images within 72 hours or reported the receipt of such image or images to law enforcement or a school official within 72 hours." But anyone else, including a teenager who swaps photos with a boyfriend or girlfriend, can go to jail for up to a year. Worse, a felony charge would remain an option, although it could not be filed in addition to a misdemeanor charge based on the same images.

The Post says the bill's main sponsor, Rep. Yuelin Willet (R-Grand Junction), "has introduced an amendment that would make some consensual sexting a petty offense in order to meet halfway those worried about criminalizing a trivial activity." In Colorado petty offenses are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. Only the original version of H.B. 1058 is available online, so it's not clear what Willet's amendment covers.

According to a list that the Cyberbullying Research Center compiled in 2013 and updated last July, 11 states treat underage sexting as a misdemeanor, while 21 prescribe "diversion" or "informal penalties." The other 18 states treat sexting by minors as a felony, either explicitly or under general child pornography laws. 

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  • commodious spittoon||

    You complain when the penalties are too heavy, now you complain that they're too light! When will you people be happy??

  • AlmightyJB||

    When there are no moar roadz!

  • commodious spittoon||

    If nobody's punished, people might start thinking it's not a crime.

  • AlmightyJB||

    OT: Travel to Cuba on the otherhand....

    http://hotair.com/archives/201.....-carolina/

  • AlmightyJB||

    Christ, can we ever escape from the Victorian Era?

  • ||

    Apparently not. Far too many people are WAY too obsessed with other people's sex lives. Probably because their own is so dismal.

  • ||

    Speaking of which, did you get Amanda's phone number?

  • commodious spittoon||

    Time was, you had to shoot a polaroid and slip it into the girl's locker. Dick pics have come a long way.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "In my day boys just whipped it out on the bus."

  • Princess Trigger||

    Takes me back.
    To those long cold walks to school since I was banned from the bus.

  • commodious spittoon||

    In fairness you hadn't been a middle schooler for thirty years.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I remember the days when a young man had to chisel a facsimile of his member into a wooden park bench.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Order is an obsession ripe with professional addicts glibly educated to cleanse common sense from even the roots of their thoughts.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Plus they like reviewing the evidence.

  • ||

    It's for their own good!

    btw my wife is trying to overturn someone's sex registration: poor guy was convicted of something when he was a teenager and must forever "pay for sins" as an adult.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    God speed to your wife. I hope she succeeds even though we have all already lost.

  • Jerryskids||

    Raise the age of consent to 25, majority to 30. For the children - especially the college children. It would solve a hell of a lot of problems. You would still allow emancipation suits, anybody under the age of 30 that wants to be considered an adult can prove to a judge they are capable of acting like an adult and get treated like an adult.

  • Hamster of Doom||

    Kids can still have sex though. Won't stop. Very risky behaviour. We should make sex illegal.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "The reason this is the most underprosecuted juvenile crime is the punishment does not fit the crime," says Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisburg).

    I wonder if they realize it doesn't actually have to be a crime. They can make anything a crime and can unmake anything they've previously made a crime.

  • sarcasmic||

    Um, no. The solution to shitty legislation is never repeal. It's more legislation. Always more legislation. Must have more and more legislation. That's what makes us free.

  • Loki||

    Must have more and more legislation. That's what makes us free.

    *Archer voice* Wait, I had something for this... something about a "Libertarian Moment."

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Sarcasmic is clearly right. Nothing gets removed, we just add on an amendment. Alcohol prohibition is the go-to example that always comes to mind; the state amends the Constitution to ban booze, the state changes it's mind, instead of removing the old amendment they write a new one, 'hey ignore that last one we wrote'.

  • B. Woodrow Chippenhaus||

    Since minors cannot consent to any sexual activity, we need to make sure anyone under the age of 18 caught masturbating is charged with the statutory rape of themselves. These deranged sexual deviants need to be prosecuted and put on a registry to make sure they cannot approach within 1000 miles of a school or playground, to protect the children until they, too, rape themselves and are justly prosecuted.

  • Chumby||

    It isn't YOUR body, it is the government's. I thought the Civil War settled this. If they don't want you texting pics of your body then if you do it is a crime.

  • ||

    "did not transmit or distribute the image or images to another person," and "took reasonable steps to either destroy or delete the images within 72 hours or reported the receipt of such image or images to law enforcement or a school official within 72 hours."

    Do nothing. Destroy evidence. Notify police. Got it.

    It's almost like they lifted it directly from any one of the millions of shitty email CYA disclaimer!

  • commodious spittoon||

    Sounds like a good way to get stuck with tampering charges.

  • ||

    Unless you read the law as;

    "Do not destroy evidence. Notify Police. Don't transmit."

    Then you get filing a false report/obstruction charges.

    It really is a nice, clear piece of nonsensical 'pick your poison' lawmaking.

  • commodious spittoon||

    Shoot, shovel, and shut up.

  • Rich||

    11 states treat underage sexting as a misdemeanor, while 21 prescribe "diversion"

    Isn't underage sexting itself a "diversion"?

  • Bureaucratic_Sex_Creep||

    America's teenagers have a hard enough time learning basic algebra...sometimes they need to blow off a little steam. Give em' a break.

  • commodious spittoon||

    If they're blowing off steam they may want to crack the window.

  • Rich||

    *** wink-wink-nudge-nudge ***

  • Libertarian||

    Speaking of selfies, this is AWESOME.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new.....plane.html

    A British man who posed for a photo with the EgyptAir hijacker has hailed it as 'the best selfie ever' – but revealed he couldn't bring himself to tell his panicked mother what he'd done.

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