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Teens Engaged in ‘Sexting’ Face Serious Consequences

It’s no secret that teenagers are on their smartphones practically nonstop.  In recent years, the practice of exchanging racy images via text message — an activity known as “sexting” — has gained popularity, particularly among the teen demographic. Although this activity raises a number of social concerns, teens also unwittingly face serious legal consequences for their behavior.

Until recently, teenagers caught sharing sexual images of minors could actually be prosecuted for distributing child pornography, a serious crime in New Jersey and throughout the country. In fact, this is exactly what happened to two teenagers in April 2014, when a 16-year-old boy sent a nude image of his ex-girlfriend to another teenage girl. The boy and the recipient of the text were both charged with distributing child pornography.

New Jersey lawmakers have taken steps to deal with how changes in technology and teenage behavior affect the law. The original law was enacted to target adults who possessed and distributed commercial child pornography — not to punish youthful indiscretions. Recently the state Senate passed an amendment to Megan’s Law that stated that young people caught “sexting” would not be subject to state child pornography charges and would not have to register as sex offenders.

Even though teens no longer face serious child pornography penalties, they are not entirely off the hook if they are caught using their cell phones to exchange sexual images of minors. Now, if caught, they must attend a state-sponsored program about the dangers and consequences of sexting. The goal of these programs is to help minors understand that their actions are tantamount to distributing child pornography and that these images are dangerous to the welfare of their peers. If teens are caught engaging in sexting a second time, they are not eligible for the program and may be charged with endangering the welfare of a child.

Teens who are caught distributing sexual images of minors may face serious charges. If your son or daughter is charged with sexting in New Jersey, there are legal options available to your family. Contact a criminal defense lawyer right away.