New Florida Law Addresses Teen Sexting Without Throwing Kids in Prison

October 3, 2011 by David S. Seltzer

As a Miami cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I am pleased to announce that Florida is now dealing reasonably and equitably with teenagers caught “sexting.” As CNN reported Oct. 1, a new state law went into effect that day that changed the law enforcement approach to the practice, in which kids send lewd cell phone photos to one another. Prior to the change, the only law to deal with the issue was the state’s child pornography law, which was designed for adults who exploit children. This led to harsh penalties for teens caught sexting, who would be penalized even if the “child pornography” was a self-portrait. Those convicted would generally face prison time, lifelong sex offender registration and life as a convicted felon.

The new law, authored by state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo (D-Wellington), reduces this significantly. On a first offense, teenagers caught sexting don’t face any criminal charge at all. Instead, they get the equivalent of a ticket, which carries eight hours of community service or a $60 fine. On a second offense, sexting becomes a misdemeanor of the first degree, which carries up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. (In my experience as a Ford Lauderdale cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I suspect that most kids will actually face much less time in practice.) A third offense is a felony, however, with a maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. For the law to apply, the defendant must be under 18 and the person in the photo must also be under 18. Teens may not be charged at al if they took reasonable steps to tell an authority figure, did not solicit the images they received or did not send the images.

This is great news for Florida teens and south Florida child pornography defense lawyers like me. Abruzzo has said the law was expressly designed to avoid making teens face lifelong consequences for actions they took while immature. This is vital, because teens are at an age when they want to experiment sexually as well as experiment with adult freedoms. Combine this with child pornography laws written for a very different situation, and the situation can be unnecessarily disastrous. While this law was needed and will do good, however, I know that other states have added an education component to their own relatively new sexting laws. This may not be necessary in every case, but I suspect that many teens caught sexting don’t realize what serious consequences there would be if they faced true child porn laws. Such an educational component could be helpful in motivating kids to keep it clean in the future.

Seltzer Law, P.A., represents clients around the United States who are accused of serious crimes involving computers, technology and the Internet. If you or someone you love is in criminal trouble, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free, confidential case evaluation. You can send us a message online or call 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

Similar blog posts:

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

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

More State Legislatures Take Up Issue of How to Penalize Teenagers for Sexting