Greensburg police recently charged two minors with sexting offenses after a 14-year old girl sent a topless photo of herself to her thirteen year-old boyfriend. The children were charged under a new law which makes sexting by minors in such cases a summary offense.
The new law addresses sexually explicit images sent via an electronic communication by minors. Commonly known as "sexting," prior to December 24, 2012, minors in Pennsylvania could be charged with a felony for sending explicit messages to other minors. In fact, in 2008, six students from Greensburg Salem High School were charged with felonies after exchanging explicit photographs. The law at the time was criticized for being too harsh and became part of a nationwide debate on sexting by teenagers.
Many critics believe that the new law is still too harsh. The ACLU has even stated that it believes the law violates the children's First Amendment rights and that it may sue. Nevertheless, minors should be aware that sexting remains a crime in Pennsylvania and they could face serious charges.
Under the new statute, 18 PA C.S.A 6321, a minor commits a summary offense when the minor knowingly transmits, distributes, publishes or disseminates an electronic communication containing a sexually explicit image of himself or if he knowingly views or disseminates a sexually explicit image of a minor 12 years of age or older.
A minor may face a more serious charge of a misdemeanor of the third degree if he knowingly transmits, distributes, publishes or disseminates an electronic communication containing a sexually explicit image of another minor who is 12 years of age or older.
It is a misdemeanor of the second degree if the minor transmits a visual depiction of any minor in a state of nudity without that minor's consent or knowledge or if the minor makes such an image without the other minor's consent with the intent to coerce, intimidate, torment, harass or cause emotional distress.
Even though the new statute lessens the seriousness of sexting charges for minors, such charges still carry the possibility of jail time, fines and a permanent criminal record. If you or your child have been charged under § 6321 for a sexting related offense, you should contact an experienced Pittsburgh defense attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can help you to understand the legal defenses that are available to you or, in many instances, to negotiate a favorable outcome to your case.