Sexting Teens facing felony charges for misuse of cell phones

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It’s a well documented fact that many teens and young adults have found themselves entangled in legal nightmares as a result of cell phones being used to transmit sexually graphic texts or images. If you are a parent of a teen ...

... you may find insights into the "Why's" of sexting in an article posted March 23, 2009 at
Why teens Sext

What is Sexting?

According to the Urban Dictionary “Sexting” is a term created by the media referring to sending sexually explicit text messages. The term is used by adults who are out of the loop and not by the individuals (often teens) who are actually sending the explicit messages.

What ever you call it, sexting, sextexting, sextextuals, or sext messages, for many parents and teenagers it may well be a sextastropy.

So what kind of legal hot water can a teen find themselves in? These legal entanglements range in severity from federal and state criminal indictments to civil legal battles and have resulted in teens being convicted of felonies and misdemeanors receiving sentences of incarceration in Juvenal prison, or some other type of punishment. Some are now required to register as sex offenders.

It goes without saying that the chain of events that unfolds in our juvenile justice court rooms across the nation involving “sexting” are as different as the people entangled in them. The legal ramifications and outcomes vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; however, if they are mostly due to an adolescents poor judgment, lack of knowledge, or general misuse of a cell phone, then it stands to reason many of these situations are completely avoidable. We all know teens don't necessarily follow all the rules, but at a minimum, they should be educated on the possible consiquence and the laws they may be violating.

In our view, unless other mitigating circumstances exist, teens should not be forced to register as sex offenders for acts obviously brought about by ill-advised adolescent behavior and poor judgment. This is NOT what the sex offender registration program was intended for. We need law makers to take a good look at this and come up with sensible standards. We need family court judges to have lattitude in sentencing these types of blunders where juveniles are concerned on a case by case basis. Yes, there are some youth out there who are violent sex offenders and certainly, they should be treated as such; however, there are many circumstances where, in our view, felony convictions and sex offender registration is not justified.

One judge took the right approach and he is to be commended for his wisdom and courage. Judge Thomas F O’Malley in Cleveland took what we felt was a very productive, useful approach in sentencing eight suburban teens (ages 14, 15, and 16) from Mayfield and Highland heights in the fall of 2008.

These teens were taking provocative nude photos of themselves and sending them through their cell phones to their boyfriends or girl friends. They knew they could get in trouble for it, but did not know they could be charged with a felony. The parents, in complete shock over the photos, didn’t know their kids could be charged with felonies until the prosecuting attorney educated them on the realities for violating obscenity laws.

Under a special sentencing plan agreed on by Judge O’Malley, the defense attorney’s and the prosecuting attorney’s, every teen was ordered to survey 25 other teens in their school to educate them and report back whether they knew having, viewing or sending explicit photos of a minor over a cell phone could result in a felony conviction and incarceration in juvenile jail. In addition, they were mandated get counseling and be assessed under the same guidelines for cases considered sexual offenses. If they comply with the sentencing, the charges will be dismissed.

The teens will come back into Judge O’Malley’s court after a given time to compile the results and present their results. The results may be used to educate other teens in their community and beyond.

A national survey release in December 2008 about sex, technology and teens showed that 20% of teens surveyed had electronically transmitted nude or provocative photos of themselves via internet post or cell phone. 40% had sent sexually evocative texts or instant messages.

If you think you see most of the horror stories on misuse of cell phones in the news and media today, you'd be mistaken. The simple fact is, 99% of these cases never hit the news. The reality is, misuse of cell phones has destroy people’s lives, or at a minimum, turn their lives completely upside down. The actions that cause this destruction are not exclusive to teens. Some adults are just as prone to poor judgment, only they don’t get to talk to a family court judge, they get a criminal court judge. Different rules entirely.

We are conducting research in all 50 states to obtain state laws on cell phone related issues. For many states, there are new cell phone laws being passed. All states are adapting cellular phone laws not only for driving issues, but for privacy issues too.

Sexlaws Research Team
S. Frances
2009-03-08 08:53:56 -0800

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