Recently, Cañon City High School was rocked by a sexting scandal. Over 100 students were involved in the sending and receiving of explicit pictures through a smartphone app that kept the pictures hidden.
When the scandal first broke in November, a number of students were suspended. And because football players were involved, the high school football team had to forfeit its last game of the season.
School employees are required by law to report the possession of explicit photos to the police as soon as they’re aware of it. This caused problems for the employees at Cañon City High School because they couldn’t discuss the issue or offer counseling to students, since they would be required to report these private conversations.
Even though 106 students took part in the picture exchanges, the prosecutors for Fremont County have decided that no students will face criminal charges. After investigating the incident, the district attorney concluded that none of the 351 photos were posted online. There was also no evidence of bullying, coercion, or the involvement of any adult.
Possessing explicit pictures of minors is a felony in Colorado, requiring offenders to register as sex offenders. But the laws in Colorado and other states seem to be behind the times with the prevalence of sexting among teenagers.
The Laws Regarding Sexting
The laws in Colorado still equate the concept of sexting to child pornography or sexual exploitation of a child. It is against the law to possess explicit photos of minors.
Legal experts and parents want law enforcement to adapt to the current digital age in regards to sexting. A recent study by Jeff Temple, a psychologist and associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, has shown that about 28 percent of teens engage in sexting, making it a pretty common occurrence throughout high schools.
Temple insists that sexting is simply a new form of flirting in this smartphone era. Sexting usually happens between teens who are dating or flirting with each other. Instead of taking legal action, he believes parents should discuss sexting, relationships, and boundaries with their children.
Some states have laws that address sexting among teenagers. In those states, the penalties for sexting are much lower. In Texas, minors are allowed to send explicit photos if they are dating, not more than 2 years apart in age, and the images are only of the sender or recipient.
In Colorado, there are both juvenile and adult penalties for sexting-related crimes. Juvenile penalties may include house arrest, fines, probation, juvenile detention, or placement in a county social services department. Adult penalties are much more significant and can include up to 12 years in jail and fines up to $750,000.
Also, depending on the circumstances of the incident, sexting could possibly be a federal crime. The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 says it’s illegal to make, exchange, or possess with the intent to distribute any visual depiction of a minor engaged in obscene, sexually explicit behavior.
However, federal prosecution of minors for sexting is unlikely because the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA) says that juveniles should be prosecuted in state courts.
What If My Child is Caught Sexting?
If your child is caught sexting, you should speak with a Colorado criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Sexting in Colorado can have serious consequences for teens because the laws have yet to catch up with the technology. Don’t talk to the police or make any decisions before getting legal advice from an experienced attorney.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.