New York State Proposes Education Instead of Prosecution for Teens Caught Sexting

June 6, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I’ve written many times here about the legal problems posed by the practice the media has named “sexting.” When teenagers take naked or explicit photos and then send them via text message or Internet, they can be charged with making child pornography, even though the pictures are almost always of themselves or consensual. As a result, teens in some areas have been subjected to harsh penalties intended for adults who exploit children, or become test cases for alternative penalties. Now, the New York state legislature is moving to offer prosecutors an alternative to conventional child porn laws. As the Wall Street Journal reported June 6, the “Cyber Crime Youth Rescue Act” would give prosecutors the option of sending kids to an educational program instead of jail.

New York follows at least 12 other states, including Florida and New Jersey, that have considered laws intended to treat teen sexting differently from adult child pornography offenses. Under the bill, the state Office of Children and Family Services would offer a training program for first offenders ages 18 and younger caught distributing sexual photos of themselves online or via text message. The program would explain the potential legal consequences of being caught sexting; the possible consequences for their personal lives and future careers; and the possibility that the photos could end up traded as child pornography forever. To be eligible, teens would have to show prosecutors they didn’t intend to commit a crime. The measure has not been co-introduced in the New York state Senate, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken no position on it.

I hope the state legislature joins its neighbor in New Jersey and passes this measure, because as a child pornography criminal defense lawyer, I believe it’s a better way to handle teen sexting. As things currently stand, there’s no clear guideline for how to handle kids caught sexting, which leaves the door open for prosecutors to treat kids just the same as adults caught harming children many years younger. As the bill’s sponsor noted, teens prosecuted for child pornography can live with the results for the rest of their lives: a felony conviction, sex offender registration and the possibility that the photos will fall into the wrong hands (as Rep. Anthony Weiner of Brooklyn can attest). As a child pornography defense attorney, I believe bills like this give prosecutors the tools to handle sexting without ruining young lives or giving kids permission to ruin their own.

If you or your child is in legal trouble due to sexting or another technology crime, the stakes can be very high. Don’t wait before you call the experienced cyber crime defense attorneys at Seltzer Law, P.A. For a free, confidential case evaluation, you can reach us through our website or call toll-free — 24 hours a day and seven days a week — at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).