Judge says sexting teens should not be charged under child porn laws

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Taking issue with the recent uptick in law enforcement agencies' use of child pornography laws to prosecute teens who "sext," a Lehigh County judge said likening sexting to child pornography is "an overreaction by law enforcement."

Lehigh County Common Pleas Judge Robert L. Steinberg threw out the charges of sexual abuse of children filed against teen "C.S.," who posted a video on her Facebook page of two other teens engaged in a consensual sexual act.

While law enforcement action may sometimes be necessary, Judge Steinberg called the use of child pornography statutes in sexting cases a "round hole/square peg approach."

"Those who are adjudicated or convicted of child pornography offenses are sexual offenders and often predators," he said. "Teenagers who engage in sexting should not face the same legal and moral conundrum."

He said sexting, which he called part of the "world of the new-millennium teen," should be addressed by the Legislature. Bills are pending in Pennsylvania to designate sexting and cyberbullying as misdemeanors and not the felonies with which the state was seeking to charge C.S., he said.

Judge Steinberg found the charges against C.S., as they were applied to her, "void for vagueness."

"The juvenile, C.S., has been charged with crimes that could be interpreted as those committed by a deviant sexual offender. What heinous acts has she allegedly committed: the posting to her Facebook page of the consensual sexual acts of L.C. and M.T., who are ages 16 and 17," the judge said.

According to the judge's opinion, L.C. agreed to allow M.T. to record their sexual encounter. M.T. later texted his recording to others, including C.S. C.S. later posted the video to her Facebook page and the comments on her page suggest the purpose was not sexual, but rather to subject L.C. to public criticism, Judge Steinberg said.

Many teens engage in sexting, he said, and the response by law enforcement has included efforts to delete the images, recommend participation in educational programs and, more frequently, prosecute under child pornography laws. While child pornography creates a permanent record of child abuse that results in continuing exploitation, sexting usually involves consensual acts. He said teenagers sext for reasons unrelated to the exploitation or abuse of children.

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Gina Passarella: gpassarella@alm.com or 215-557-2494. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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