Is Consensual, Teenage Sexting Really A Crime?

Sexting is exactly what it sounds like – sending nude or sexually suggestive photos to someone electronically, such as through text. It has become more popular in the past decade, as more people own and use cell phones with cameras. And it’s most popular with young people, which can be a problem if the sender and/or recipient is a minor. In fact, 18.5% of middle and high school students have received a sexually explicit image or video.

Is Consensual Teenage Sexting Really A Crime?

Until 2018, teen sexting behavior could only be charged as felony exploitation of a child. Fortunately, new legislation (HB17-1302) has become more lenient on consensual sharing of nude photos between two teenagers. It is important to know that while the punishment has been significantly reduced for many sexting related offenses, it is still considered a crime and can still carry penalties. Teenagers should be advised of the legal and social risks of sending and possessing sexually explicit images or videos. 

Consensually Exchanging Photos 

In Colorado, teenagers consensually exchanging sexual photos is considered a civil infraction. This includes sending photos of yourself to another who is at least age 14 or less than 4 years younger. This also includes possessing an image of another who is at least age 14 or who is less than 4 years younger. For both of these situations, it must be reasonably believed that the recipient or depicted person agreed to the situation. The punishment for these teens can be a $50 fine or requirement to participate in an educational program.

Possession Without Permission 

Possessing images of another who is at least 14 years old or is less than 4 years younger, without permission, is a more serious crime. This is considered a petty offense. If the possessor has 10 or more images depicting 3+ separate persons, it is considered a class 2 misdemeanor. 

Posting Photos 

Posting or sending photos without permission carries more serious consequences. Distributing, displaying, or publishing an image of another who it at least 4 years old or less than four years younger without permission, is a class 2 misdemeanor. This also applied if the poster should have known the depicted person had a reasonably expectation of privacy. Similarly, distributing, displaying, or publishing yourself, if the recipient didn’t request it and suffered emotional distress, is also a class 2 misdemeanor. 

This can be raised to a class one misdemeanor if the poster had intent to coerce, intimidate, threaten or cause emotional distress, or posted images of 3 or more separate persons. 

Other Penalties 

As we know, crimes can be prosecuted in many different ways depending on the situation that occurred. Possession without permission, or posting without permission, can still lead to felony charges under aggravating circumstances. Similarly, the crime can be charged more leniently if the juvenile takes reasonable steps to delete or report the image to law enforcement or a school resource officer within 72 hours. This is also the case if the juvenile was coerced, threatened, or intimidated. Additionally, the court has the discretion to exempt first-time offenders from the sex offender registry in the cases of posting or possessing private images by a juvenile. 

Need Help? 

The penalties of teenage sexting has been reduced, but it is still considered a crime. The penalties can range depending on the situation, especially considering if the act was consensual.  Regardless of the outcome of a felony, misdemeanor, or petty offense, the charges itself are enough to have serious future consequences.  If you are in need of legal help, consider reaching out to Nicol Gersch Law for a free 30-minute consultation. Find more information at https://NicolGerschLaw.Com or call 970.670.0378.

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