Is Sexting Illegal? Know Your State Laws
Possessing and viewing intimate images of minors is illegal. This crime is known as child pornography and it follows some of the strictest felony laws in America. Sexting often takes place among minors. If discovered, this can trigger a child pornography investigation. To address the nuances of this, several states have created sexting laws.
What Is Sexting?
Sexting involves the transmission of sexually suggestive or provocative images between a couple or among a group of people. The content may be text-based or photographic. In some instances, it may include videos. Sexting generally begins to run afoul of the law when it involves nudes or other explicit images of minors.
When people first began to refer to these activities as “sexting,” it described intimate conversations between romantic partners. However, sexting laws may also take revenge porn into consideration. At the time of writing this web page, 42 states had laws that specifically addressed revenge porn.
What Are the Differences in Sexting Laws by State?
Sexting laws are rapidly evolving all across America. Because of this, it is important to speak with a qualified attorney in your area before reporting or attempting to defend a case. These are the primary differences to look out for:
- Whether any sexting law exists
- Whether a revenge porn law exists
- If existing laws specifically address instances of minors as senders
- Whether existing laws specifically address instances of minors as receivers
- Whether the resulting penalty is informal, a diversion, a misdemeanor or a felony
It is important to note that at the federal level, no sexting law currently exists. However, revenge porn laws have been proposed. Similarly, Washington D.C. has no sexting laws but does have a revenge porn law.
Existing Sexting Laws
More than half of American states have sexting laws in place, including:
- New York
- Rhode Island
Existing Revenge Porn Laws
Revenge porn refers to instances where an individual posts explicit footage of an individual to cause intentional harm or uses the content to blackmail someone. Almost all American states have revenge porn laws in place. Many of those without revenge porn laws have already proposed them. The states that currently have no laws and no proposals are Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. The states that have proposed laws include Iowa, Massachusetts and Wyoming.
Addressing Minors Sending
When minors are the ones sending explicit images, courts may act less harshly. Courts are especially dismissive of cases where minors send sexual content to each other. However, if the receiving party is not a minor and evidence shows that the adult requested the content or encouraged the minor to send it, he or she may face charges related to sexual exploitation. Charges also tend to be worse when the minor sends a video as opposed to a photo.
These are some of the states with laws addressing minors as the senders:
Addressing Minors Receiving
When minors are on the receiving end of sexting, the age of the sender plays a role. If the sender is not a minor, this may lead to harsh penalties against the individual. Some jurisdictions do make allowances if the individual did not know the person was a minor, but he or she may have an uphill battle to prove his or her ignorance of this fact. These are some of the states that have laws addressing minors as the receivers:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
Determining the Type of Offence
Statista estimates that 12 states allow an informal penalty and another 12 states allow a diversion penalty. It also reports that 17 states class sexting as a misdemeanor, while seven states treat it as a felony. Note that whether people are charged with misdemeanors or felonies related to sexting, revenge porn or child pornography, they may still need to register as sex offenders.
These are some of the states that class sexting as a misdemeanor:
- South Dakota
These are some of the states that class sexting as a felony:
An interesting fact to note is that at the time of writing, Alabama treated sexting as a felony, even though it did not have sexting laws. The state does have revenge porn laws.
What Can Someone Do When Facing Charges Related To Sexting?
Sexting is such a complex area with so many variables that only your attorney can adequately advise you on how to handle the case. Whether you are a minor can also play a big role in your case, even when state laws do not make special provisions for people under 18. Here are general tips that may help protect you:
- Be mindful of what you say to law enforcement, news agencies, family members and friends.
- Refrain from communicating with the other party involved, especially if he or she is a minor and you are not.
- Take a break from social media.
- Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Do You Need To Work With an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney?
Any case that involves sexual references in regard to a minor requires an experienced criminal defense attorney. This holds true even if the other individual is also a minor. The state laws can make all the difference in how courts interpret the situation, but it is important to note that many teens have faced child pornography charges. Even when states do not equate minors sexting each other with child pornography, instances of suspected or proven revenge porn may create lifelong legal repercussions for the accused party. The person may even be registered as a sex offender.
Hiring an experienced attorney does not guarantee a positive outcome for a case, but it does help families explore every possible option to preserve the accused person’s freedom. Unfortunately, there are not many attorneys willing to take sexting cases because they are so complex and controversial. We can help connect you with a willing and qualified attorney. Submit a request online or call us today at (866) 345-6784 to get in touch with an experienced lawyer in your area!