Florida House Passes Bill Reducing Penalties for Sexting for Minors Under 18

May 2, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a Miami-Dade child pornography defense attorney, I've written here many times before about the issue of sexting among teenagers. Sexting is the practice of sending and receiving sexually explicit pictures via text messages. Most parents and school administrators agree that this isn't desirable behavior among teens — but there's no existing law to address it. Unfortunately, prosecutors sometimes use child pornography laws to prosecute kids involved in sexting, even though the pictures aren't child pornography as it was originally envisioned by the authors of the laws. Worse, this kind of prosecution sets up kids for adult lives as convicted felony sex offenders. I'm happy to say that Florida started to address this last Friday, when the state House passed a law reducing sexting penalties substantially for minors.

Under the proposed law, authored by Rep. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington), the penalties would change only for minors. Minors are guilty of sexting if they use a computer or other device to electronically transmit or distribute a photo or video "which depicts nudity and is harmful to minors." A first conviction would lead to community service and a $60 fine for defendants. The second offense would be a misdemeanor and the third would be a felony. Compare that with the offense of transmitting child pornography or transmitting material harmful to a minor, both of which are felonies in Florida. It is expected to come up for a vote in the state Legislature within a few weeks, and if passed, would take effect October 1. Abruzzo told WBPF last month that his goal is to teach kids that sexting is a bad idea, not penalize them with felony charges and sex offender registration obligations that last decades.

I couldn't agree more. As a south Florida cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I have read about many cases of teenagers who were hit with felony charges and all of the associated penalties for one act of sexting. That includes at least one young adult in Florida, Philip Alpert, who ended up on the sex offender registration list after sending out a picture that his 16-year-old then-girlfriend had posed for voluntarily. As of 2009, he was on probation, having trouble finding work and kicked out of college. That's too much punishment for a mistake made out of immaturity. If the sexting bill passes, it will stop this kind of overreaction, while giving prosecutors the tool they need to address sexting in a way that shows that actions have consequences. As a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I think that's the best outcome for everyone.

If you're accused of committing a crime using technology or the Internet, you need an experienced attorney who understands the intersection of technology and the law. Seltzer Law, P.A., can help. Our lead attorney, David Seltzer, is a former cyber crime prosecutor for the Miami-Dade State's Attorney's office and understands where to look for the real evidence in computer crime cases. For a free, confidential case evaluation, call us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) or send us an email today.