When teenagers first experience the excitement and freedom of their first cell phone, they’re often unprepared for the dangers that can come with the technology. Among other dangers is sexting. Teenagers might not understand that when they’re sending photos to friends, they might be breaking the law.
Washington’s Supreme Court just affirmed that teenagers can face a conviction for child pornography even when they send a nude photo of themselves. It’s no excuse that they’re underage or that they may not appreciate the law. In the case that the Washington Supreme Court reviewed, a 17-year-old boy sent a nude photo to a 20-year old.
State attorneys charged the boy with sending an image of a minor involved in sexually explicit conduct. The jury convicted the boy of the charges. The boy’s defense attorneys say that he has Asperger’s syndrome.
Bringing criminal child pornography charges against minors is not uncommon. The Crimes Against Children Research Center reports that approximately seven percent of child pornography charges today are because of children sexting.
Because of the conviction, the boy must register as a sex offender. He also received 30 days in jail and an order to complete 150 hours of community service. Because of a juvenile adjudication, the boy already had to register as a sex offender.
The boy’s defense team raised constitutional issues regarding the law. They say it violates the Fourteenth Amendment and Washington’s state constitution. The boy’s legal team argued that there are better ways to protect children than giving young people criminal records that drastically alter the course of their lives. They say that the behavior is innocent and common.
However, the judges disagreed. They say that the law applies equally to everyone regardless of their age. They say that the boy sent words along with the photo. They say that the words made it clear that the boy sent the photos with a sexual purpose. The court said that stopping and punishing child pornography is a serious and legitimate government purpose. The judges also say that there’s no general immunity for minors from any category of laws.
The court also rejected free speech arguments. The court said that speech is presumably free. However, they said that there’s no redeeming value in sexting. The court said that the State of Washington is fully within their rights as a government to prohibit teenage sexting. Teenagers convicted of sexting may have a permanent, adult conviction based on the rules of the state where they live.