If it seems to you as if virtually all U.S. teens have smartphones, you are right. According to a recently released Pew Research Center report on teens and technology, 73 percent of U.S. teens have smartphones and 15 percent of teens have a basic cellphone, according to the University of California, Irvine.
With so many teens having the ability to take sexually explicit photos or videos on their smartphones and tablets and transmit them electronically, many are finding themselves in embarrassing situations, some of which involve legal consequences.
Sexting is not typically an issue between consenting adults who transmit explicit images of individuals who are 18 or over. That is because ordinary men and women don’t usually transmit sexually graphic images of minors (child pornography), but some teens do.
When a teen shares images of nude minors or minors engaged in sexual activity, the teen can get themselves into a lot of trouble.
While many states consider sexting by a teen a child pornography offense, there are some states, including Florida that changed their laws to prevent teens from becoming registered sex offenders.
Knowing that teens are basically being inappropriate, Florida recognized the problem of charging teens with transmitting child pornography by an electronic device under Sec. 847.0137. In effect, Florida changed its law to specifically address the issue of teens sexting.
Instead of automatically charging teens with child pornography crimes, the state created a graduated system of punishment.
Sexting Under Florida Law
A minor, someone under the age of 18, commits the crime of sexting when he or she knowingly uses a smartphone, tablet, computer or other electronic device to send an image or video that depicts a minor that is nude or engaged in sexual conduct.
A teen can also get in trouble for sexting if he or she receives and possesses a nude or sexually explicit image that was sent from another minor.
However, if the teen did not ask for the photo, and they did not send it to anyone else, and if they took reasonable steps to report the image to a parent, legal guardian, school official, or member of law enforcement, the minor is not guilty of sexting.
What are the penalties for sexting?
Under Section 847.0141, if a minor is caught sexting, he or she commits one of the following depending on the circumstances of the case:
- A noncriminal violation (usually a first offense)
- Misdemeanor of the first-degree
- Felony of the third-degree
If the minor commits a noncriminal violation, he or she may be ordered to pay a $60 civil penalty, perform 8 hours of community service, or complete a cyber-safety program, or any combination thereof.
If the teen is found guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, he or she faces up to one year in jail, and a fine not to exceed $1,000.
On the other hand, if the teen is convicted of a felony of the third degree, the teen faces up to 5 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $5,000.
Parents Need to Educate Teens
Unlike adults who transmit nude and explicit images to each other of adults, teens are in a unique situation because sending nude and explicit images and videos of children is highly frowned upon in the state and federal judicial systems.
Parents, we urge you to educate your teens about the consequences of sexting, and this includes sending images or video of themselves to another minor. They must understand that repeat violations can lead to felony charges, which can be extremely detrimental to your child’s future.
If your teen is being accused of a sexting crime in Tampa or Hillsborough County, contact Thomas & Paulk, P.A. for a free consultation.