Almost every teenager owns a cellphone, tablet or other mobile device today. Unfortunately, the widespread use of cellphones and other devices by teenagers to communicate with each other has led to the practice known as “sexting.” Sexting is the sending of sexually-suggestive, partially nude or nude photographs through text message, e-mail or a social media messaging application.
Dangers of Sexting
Most teenagers do not realize the long-term consequences of sexting, including the possibility that their actions will result in criminal charges. Pennsylvania is among 20 states that have enacted laws addressing this type of conduct when committed by minors. Both the sender and the recipient of sexually-related photos can suffer significant emotional trauma. The sexually-related photos can be posted online, making their permanent removal difficult if not impossible.
Lifelong Consequences of Sexting
A criminal record for a sexual offense can seriously harm a child’s reputation and will interfere with future educational and professional opportunities. In addition to a criminal history check, many employers and college admissions officers conduct a review of an applicant’s social media history as part of the application process.
Individuals who have had sexually-related pictures posted online are often are often subject to bullying and other forms of psychological abuse. Additionally, if a teenager distributes sexually-explicit images among classmates, on school grounds or during school hours, he or she can face school discipline for cyber-harassment or cyber-bullying. It is important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side if you or a loved one is charged with sexting.
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled and aggressive representation to individuals charged with sexual offenses in Bucks County Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. Contact me at (215) 752-5282 for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends.
Pennsylvania’s Sexting Law
The Pennsylvania sexting statute under 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 6321 was signed into law in 2012. It addresses conduct related to sexting and is not intended to replace or modify existing child pornography laws. However, a teenager who distributes or otherwise transmits a sexually-related image of a child under the age of 12 could still face federal or state child pornography charges.
The Pennsylvania sexting law does not apply to images depicting minors engaged in sexual intercourse or other sexual acts or images taken, produced or intended for commercial use. Sexting cases are usually adjudicated through the juvenile court system. The Pennsylvania sexting law defines several types of conduct related to sexting, with escalating penalties based on the specific type of conduct that has allegedly occurred.
Summary Sexting Offense
A summary sexting offense occurs when a minor- defined under the statute as someone 12 years of age or older and under 18 years of age- possesses or knowingly views a sexually explicit image of another minor or transmits or distributes a sexually-explicit image of himself or herself.
Penalties for Summary Sexting Offense
- Up to 90 days in jail
- Up to $300 in fines
This section of the sexting law will often apply to situations in which minors consensually exchange sexually-related photos between themselves. The statute requires a juvenile court judge or magisterial district judge to consider a diversionary first-time offender program for juveniles charged under this section of the law.
Third-Degree Misdemeanor Sexting
A minor commits a 3rd degree misdemeanor sexting offense if he or she knowingly transmits, distributes or otherwise publishes a sexually-explicit image of another minor.
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Up to $2,500 in fines
Second-Degree Misdemeanor Sexting
A minor commits a 2nd degree misdemeanor sexting offense if he or she knowingly transmits, produces or distributes a sexually-explicit image of another minor without that minor’s knowledge or consent and with the intent to harass, intimidate or cause other emotional distress.
- Up to 2 years in jail
- Up to $5,000 in fines
Diversionary Programs for Sexting Cases
It is often possible to avoid having a sexting offense become part of your permanent criminal record through placement in a diversionary program for first-time offenders. Juvenile court judges and magisterial district court judges are required to consider placement in a diversionary program for juvenile offenders who possess the potential for rehabilitation.
Diversionary Program Requirements for Sexting Cases
Individuals accepted into a diversionary program for a sexting offense are eligible to have their charges dismissed if certain program conditions are completed, including participation in an educational awareness program. The court-ordered educational program addresses safe cellphone usage, appropriate communication practices among adolescents and the legal and non-legal consequences of sexting. Successful completion of the diversionary program will also result in the expungement of the criminal records of the case.
Eligibility for the diversionary program for sexting offenses is not guaranteed. Juveniles who do not qualify for the diversionary program may find it difficult to have their sexting charges expunged or removed from their record. This, in turn, may lead to limited personal, educational and professional opportunities in the future.
Extensive Experience in the Juvenile Court System
I have considerable experience with the juvenile court hearing process in Bucks County, Montgomery County and the surrounding counties. I understand the factors that are considered by the juvenile court judges and prosecutors when deciding whether to offer a juvenile admission into a diversionary program for a sexting offense.
I will make certain that the juvenile court judge, juvenile probation officer and prosecutor receive the necessary information about your background, character and future potential to ensure that you are in the best position to be approved for the program. Successful completion of the diversionary program will enable you to move on with your life without the stigma of having a sexting offense as part of your record. I can guide you through the program application process if you or a loved one is charged with a sexting offense.
You should immediately contact an attorney experienced in defending sex offense cases if you are under investigation for a sexting crime. I have successfully defended juveniles and adults charged with the most serious sexual crimes under Pennsylvania law. I will thoroughly investigate the facts and circumstances of your case to develop the most effective legal strategy. Common defenses to sexting may include the following:
- Photos are not sexually-explicit as defined under the law
- Police seized evidence in violation of your constitutional rights
- Your device was used by a third party to send or receive photos
- The police violated your Miranda rights during questioning
If you are the parent or guardian of a child whom you suspect has engaged in a sexting incident, do not view or distribute the images. I can often take steps at the beginning of the investigation to increase the chances of a successful resolution of the case.
Charging Decision by the Prosecutor
When police or school authorities receive evidence of a sexting incident, prosecutors have broad discretion in deciding which charges to file. In some cases, the prosecutor will review the evidence and decline to file charges. In other cases, the prosecutor may file charges under the state sexting laws or under the state child pornography laws.
Prosecutors are more likely to file sexting charges if the sexually-explicit images fall within the sexting statute and if evidence exists that the alleged offender has distributed sexually-explicit images to more than 1 juvenile. Clearly, a prosecutor’s decision to file sexting charges against you can have a devastating effect on your future.
Developing a Sexting Defense at the Earliest Stage of the Case
In many cases, I can thoroughly review the evidence of any alleged sexting incidents before the prosecutor has made a formal decision to file charges. In certain cases, I have used a defense investigator and forensic computer expert to establish a complete defense to the charges. In other cases, I have been able to use the results of the defense investigation to persuade the prosecutor to decline prosecution of the case or to agree to file reduced or less serious charges. I can review the circumstances and evidence in your case to determine the most effective legal defense to pursue.
Start with a Strong Defense
If you or a loved one has been charged with a sexting offense in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding counties, it is critical that you act quickly to protect your future and build the strongest possible defense against the charges. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Call today for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.