Teenagers exchanging nudes on their cell phones, also called “sexting,” is becoming increasingly common. In a society that seeks to punish sex offenses involving children as much as possible, have things gone too far? Can teens be convicted of possession of child pornography for exchanging racy photos with each other–sexting–exposing them to up to 15 years in prison? Under a new House bill, the answer is yes.
The U. S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 1761, also called the “Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017.” Among other things, the statute amends the U.S. Code to impose a 15 year minimum sentence for possession of child pornography. The law also reaches to “conspiracy” and “attempt.”
What’s wrong with that? The trouble is, the law encompasses teenagers and the increasingly common practice among adolescents of “sexting.” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) points out:
“That means if a teenager attempts to obtain a photo of sexually explicit conduct by requesting it from his teenage girlfriend, the judge must sentence that teenager to prison for at least 15 years for making such an attempt. If a teenager goads a friend to ask a teenager to take a sexually explicit image of herself, just by asking, he could be guilty of conspiracy or attempt, and the judge must sentence that teenager to at least 15 years in prison.”
What first looks like a law designed to protect children, then, could be used to send a teenager away for 15 years for a mistake greatly disproportionate to the penalty threatened by the law.
Scott went on:
“We have to recognize that mandatory minimums in the code did not get there all at once. They got there one at a time, each part of a larger bill, which, on balance, might seem like a good idea. The only way to stop passing new mandatory minimums is to stop passing bills that contain or broaden the application of mandatory minimums.”
Nude selfies can land a teen in prison for 15 years.
Federal judges have long bemoaned the limitation of their discretion through mandatory minimums, which force them to put people away for decades for many non-violent offenses, especially those in which the defendant has merely a tangential relationship to the criminal behavior of a friend or family member.
In an attempt to be “tough on crime,” G.O.P. lawmakers have introduced another measure that is overbroad in its application towards developing adolescents who in many cases haven’t yet learned all the rules of romance, much less all the regulations found in the annals of the United States Code. Parents may desire strict penalties to protect their children, unknowing how common sexting has become among teenagers. As the New York Times uncovered two years ago, literally hundreds of students were found to be caught up in a sexting scandal at a Cañon City, Colorado, high school.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a serious sex crime, it’s imperative to hire an attorney who will fight for your rights against overburdensome laws like this one.