A law prohibiting minors from sending or possessing nude pictures may be readdressed in the new session of the Florida Legislature, which convenes Tuesday, March 3. The law, passed in 2011, has been questioned as potentially unenforceable. Legislators are hoping to fix what could be a fatal flaw.
The law made it an offense for a minor to send or distribute a photograph or video that contains nudity, or possesses a photo or video containing nudity that was transmitted or distributed by another minor. The first offense would be a noncriminal violation. A second conviction goes up to a first degree misdemeanor, and the third is a third degree felony.
Before the law was drafted, juveniles sending nude pictures of themselves as well as juveniles receiving such material via cell phone texts or emails constituted a violation of child pornography laws. Therefore, what is widely regarded as typical teenage behavior could result in a minor being convicted of a serious sex offense and being required to register as a sex offender.
However, a Palm Beach County appellate court found certain jurisdictional issues with the sexting law. As a noncriminal violation, a sexting first offense is a civil matter. However, there are no courts, under Florida law, that may hear a civil violation for a juvenile. Therefore, there could be no conviction of a first offense, and therefore no second or third offense, either.
Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, the law’s original author, has filed Senate Bill 1112. The bill will update the law so that, for a first offense, a minor will be cited for a noncriminal violation that is heard in juvenile court. The minor may contest the citation, and may be represented by an attorney in that content.
If found liable for the violation, the minor must complete eight hours of community service, pay a $60 fine or participate in a cybersafety class, or a combination of these penalties.
If this law passes, sexting will become an enforceable crime or noncriminal violation. Parents should also know that, if their child is convicted, it could affect his or her abilities to get into college, land a job or more. Despite frequent admonitions not to send such pictures, a 2014 Drexel University study found that 54 percent of college student reported sending or receiving sexually explicit texts or images before they turned 18.
If a minor is accused of sexting or any other offense, he or she can have a juvenile defense lawyer to search for every defense and seek the best possible outcome.