If you are over the age of 18 years, and you and another adult choose to sext, you do not break any laws. Adults are free to express themselves sexually to one another so long as all parties consent. However, when teenagers sext, or an adult with a teenager, sexting may become a crime. If you are a teenager charged with a crime for sexting, your child has been charged, or you are an adult charged with creating, possessing, or sending child pornography, you should contact a Pittsburgh sexting lawyer immediately.
Our legal team at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC is ready to defend you in court. Call a Pittsburgh sex crime lawyer at (412) 281-2146 to schedule a free case consultation right away.
What is Sexting?
Individuals in romantic and sexual relationships may send each other texts, emails, photos, and videos involving sexual innuendos, sexually explicit messages, and nudity. Sexting covers a wide range of conduct. It may be relatively harmless when it only includes insinuations and suggestions. Sexting often involves explicit photos and videos of actual or simulated sexual acts. For consenting adults, this remains lawful.
However, when it comes to teens and sexting, if a minor is depicted as nude or in a sexually explicit way, it is illegal. Sexual depictions of minors can lead to criminal charges for the sender and the recipient depending on the facts of the case.
Transmission of Sexually Explicit Images by a Minor (18 Pa. Code §6321)
Pennsylvania has codified sexting, making it illegal for teenagers to send nude photos to one another. Under the law, a minor can be charged with a summary offense if they:
- Knowingly transmit, distribute, publish, or disseminate an electronic communication containing a sexually explicit image of themselves
- Knowingly possess or consciously view a sexually explicit image of a minor who is 12 years of age or older
An example of illegal sexting in which both participants commit a crime includes a 15-year-old girl taking a photo of her naked breasts and texting it to her 16-year-old boyfriend. Her boyfriend receives the photo, views it, and saves it to his phone. Here, both teenagers could face a summary offense.
If your child is convicted of a summary offense, they can be penalized with up to 90 days in jail and fines reaching $300. They may also be placed on probation and required to complete community service.
While the consequences of a summary offense are considered light by many, this still results in a juvenile obtaining a criminal record. A teenager should not merely plead guilty to get it over with. Instead, they should be represented by an experienced sexting lawyer who may be able to have the charges dropped. Also, a sexting attorney will fight hard for the juvenile to be acquitted in court. If a conviction occurs, an attorney improves the chance of the teen receiving a minimal penalty, including no jail time.
What is a Sexually Explicit Image?
Under Pennsylvania law, a sexually explicit image is any lewd or lascivious visual depiction of a minor’s genitals, pubic area, breasts, or buttocks. It also encompasses nudity if that nudity is for sexual stimulation or gratification of the person who may view the depiction.
When prosecutors are determining whether to charge a juvenile with this offense, they will review whether the depictions contained nudity, specifically, of a minor’s intimate or private areas. There is a significant difference between photos in which a young girl is displaying cleavage and pictures in which her full breasts and nipples are exposed. Prosecutors also review whether the depiction is sexually suggestive, which may be determined by the type of nudity, the depicted minor’s pose, and the context surrounding the photo or video.
If you believe your child is facing criminal charges for photos or videos that are not sexually explicit, contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. A lawyer may be able to fight for the charges to be dropped or reduced.
When Minors’ Sexting Becomes a Misdemeanor
Sexting is also illegal when a teenager sends a nude photo of someone else. For instance, if a teenage boy receives a picture of a young girl who is naked and then texts that photo to his friends, he may be charged with a crime. Under 18 Pa. Code §6321(b), any minor who knowingly transmits, distributes, publishes, or disseminates an electronic communication containing a sexually explicit image of another minor older than 12 years can be charged with a third-degree misdemeanor.
The offense can get worse too. Teenagers have been known to distribute nude photos of one another out of revenge or to bully. Based on 18 Pa. Code §6321(c), this is a second-degree misdemeanor. It is illegal for any minor, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, torment, harass, or cause emotional distress to another minor to:
- Make a visual depiction of any minor in a state of nudity without their knowledge and consent
- Transmit, distribute, publish, or disseminate a visual representation of any minor in a state of nudity without that minor’s knowledge and consent
For example, it is illegal for a teenage girl to take a photo of another girl who is naked in the locker room without that girl knowing of the photo or giving permission. Another example is when a teenager, who previously received nude pictures from an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend, publishes those nude photos online after a breakup without the person’s permission.
A third-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one of jail and fines up to $2,000. A second-degree misdemeanor, which is more serious, can be penalized with up to two years in jail and a maximum fine of $5,000. For either degree of a misdemeanor, your son or daughter may also face probation, community service, and other penalties.
An Alternative Penalty for Minors
A teenager charged with a sexting offense may be given the option to go through a diversionary program. A jurisdiction may have an available program that provides information on the legal and non-legal consequences of sharing sexually explicit images. If such a program is available and the juvenile completes it, then the record of the conviction may be expunged.
If your child is facing a summary offense or misdemeanor charge for sexting, contact a lawyer right away and ask about diversion programs, including pretrial diversion programs that may prevent a conviction or alternative sentencing programs.
When Sexting Becomes Illegal for Adults
Sexting is typically lawful for adults. However, there are times when you may step over the line and break sexting laws. As an adult, sexting could lead to charges based on creating or possessing obscene materials (18 Pa. Code §5903), child pornography (18 Pa. Code §6312), unlawful contact with a minor (18 Pa. Code §6318), or unlawful dissemination of an intimate image (18 Pa. Code §3131).
If you are over 18 years old, you should never send or agree to receive sexually explicit depictions from a minor. If you receive and retain a lewd photo or a video of a minor that depicts the minor engaging in a sexual act or simulating a sex act, you may face a serious crime that would require you to register as a sex offender. Possessing child pornography is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison and fines reaching $15,000. If you knowingly photograph or videotape a minor engaging in a sex act or simulation of a sex act, whether or not you are in a consensual relationship, then you face a second-degree felony. You can face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $25,000.
If your sexting with a minor is for the purpose of engaging in a sex offense in the future, such as receiving or creating obscene materials, open lewdness, sexual abuse of children, sexual exploitation of children, deviate sexual intercourse, or rape, then you may be charged with unlawful contact with a minor. This is a third-degree felony.
Also, if you are accused of disseminating an intimate image of a current or former sexual or intimate partner, whether it is a minor or another adult, with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm that person, then you may be charged with a crime. If the person depicted is a minor, you face a first-degree misdemeanor. If it is another adult, then you will be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
Contact a Pittsburgh Sexting Lawyer For Help
If you are an adult or a minor facing criminal charges for sexting, do not hesitate to call Worgul, Sarna & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, LLC for help. While the situation may be uncomfortable, and you may be worried about your reputation, our legal team is here to help. We will protect your rights during a law enforcement investigation, guide you through the legal process with compassion, and fight hard for the best possible outcome in your case.