Fort Lauderdale Cyber Crime Criminal Defense Lawyer on Happy Ending for School Official Prosecuted for Sexting

June 29, 2009 by David S. Seltzer

Back in March, I wrote a Cyber Crime Lawyer Blog post about a school administrator in Virginia who got into legal trouble for doing his job. Ting-Yi Oei, an assistant principal at a high school in South Riding, Virginia, was asked to confiscate an “inappropriate” picture of a student found on another student’s phone, as part of a school investigation. When he did so, he was charged with possession of child pornography and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He faced up to five years in prison for the felony child pornography charge.

I am happy to announce that the judge in Oei’s case dropped the charges completely, saying the picture was not explicit enough to be child pornography. And just last week, the school board voted to cover all of Oei’s legal bills, according to the Washington Post’s Loudon Extra. Those bills had grown to $167,621 in less than a year. The case also resulted in a job suspension for Oei, though he returned to work earlier this year.

As a South Florida child pornography possession criminal defense attorney, I’m happy to see that justice has been done in this case. Oei was following a supervisor’s orders and trying to maintain school discipline when he uploaded the photo. While that would technically be possession of child pornography (if the photo had been child pornography, which the judge said it was not), it’s a serious stretch of the imagination to equate those actions with the kind of child pornography possession that the law was intended to punish. If Oei had been convicted, he would have faced prison time, sex offender status, the end of his career and life as a convicted felon -- all for doing his job. You don’t have to be a Miami-Dade possession of child pornography criminal defense lawyer to call that a miscarriage of justice.

When I wrote about this case before, I mentioned that Oei had also faced charges for failing to notify authorities about “child abuse.” That charge was dropped, perhaps because there was no real child abuse in this case -- the article doesn’t say whether the girl took her own photo and voluntarily sent it, but that’s usually the case with sexting. However, that charge concerned me as a Fort Lauderdale child pornography criminal defense attorney, because it suggested that school administrators were under pressure to get authorities involved in sexting cases right away -- and nothing could be worse for the kids involved.

Most sexting cases involve teenagers making bad decisions -- not sexual assault, child abuse or another crime. Some consequences are appropriate, but the growing trend toward criminal prosecution of teenagers involved in voluntary sexual photos could ruin the lives of kids who made one bad decision. That’s why this South Florida child pornography criminal defense lawyer prefers that school administrators handle most cases of voluntary sexting, without involving authorities -- and without being prosecuted for simply doing their jobs.