December 27, 2018By Brian Manchester
Sexting is the sending of pornographic photos or videos through electronic forms of communication, such as text message or Snapchat. Some states have passed laws specifically to target the issue of teens sexting other teens. However, Pennsylvania has not done so. Therefore existing child pornography laws are applied to teen sexting cases.
This means that harsh punishments meant for adults who possess or exchange child pornography, are applied to teens who send or receive nude photographs to and from other teens. 1 in 5 teens admits to sending or receiving nude photographs, meaning that they could face these harsh penalties.
What Child Pornography Laws Cover
- Possessing a sexually explicit photo or video of a person under the age of 18.
- Distributing a sexually explicit photo or video of a person under the age of 18.
- Enticing or coercing a person under the age of 18 to take suggestive photos or videos.
- Production of sexually explicit photos or videos of someone under 18.
Teen Sexting Qualifies as Child Pornography
Under these definitions, teen sexting would qualify as child pornography in the state of Pennsylvania, no matter the age of the recipient as long as the photo shows a person under the age of 18.
This is because a minor is considered to be legally unable to give consent for these photographs. If the minor willingly sent the photographs to the recipient, it does not affect a child pornography case. To be charged with child pornography related to sexting, it must be proven that the person was acting with lascivious intent.
Lascivious intent means that the defendant was receiving sexual gratification from the photographs or video, or sending the material to others for their sexual gratification.
It is important to note that the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act states that minors that are involved in crimes are to be prosecuted in state, rather than federal, courts, causing minor to minor sexting to be a state issue. If a minor sends a sexually explicit photo of his or herself to another minor, under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act, they will not face federal charges.
Punishments for Teen Sexting
Pennsylvania no longer has mandatory minimum sentences for child pornography due to a recent decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, due to the stigma of child pornography and out of concern for the victims depicted in the material, state judges are particularly reluctant to show leniency or mercy towards a defendant who is convicted of these charges.
This means that a state court conviction may result in lengthy sentences of incarceration and court supervision. Even though mandatory minimums do not currently apply, the legislature often seems poised to reinstate mandatory minimums for a wide variety of offenses.
Further, the suggested sentences called for by the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines are usually state prison sentences because there are enhancements to the guidelines for child abuse cases. The enhancements result in higher recommended sentences under the Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines based on the number of images and the nature of the material.