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Oops – Florida Legislature Accidentally (Temporarily) Legalized Sexting for Teens

As you are no doubt aware, “sexting” is the sending of sexually explicit messages or photos via cell phone. And when sexting involves images of juveniles, it is considered child pornography. Until 2011, minors sending nude photos of themselves to other minors could be punished under child pornography laws, subject to probation, jail time, and the requirement to register as a sex offender. With a new law in 2011, the Florida legislature attempted to mitigate the harsh consequences of then-existing law by passing a new statute specifically dealing with juveniles in this situation. Although their intentions were good, the results backfired.

As reports, the 2011 law made it illegal for minors to send nude images (of themselves or others) to their peers. The first offense was declared a civil infraction, punishable only by court-ordered community service or a small fine. A second or third subsequent offense would be a misdemeanor, and a fourth would be a felony. The idea behind this structure was to be more lenient with kids and avoid having them end up with criminal records, while still imposing consequences for (and deterring) the behavior.

The statute’s troubles came to light only recently. In 2013, when a 13-year-old girl was charged under the statute, her defense brought to light a basic problem with the statute. As Slate explains, the first infraction under the statute is civil, and no Florida court has jurisdiction over civil (as opposed to criminal) actions against juveniles. Nor did the sexting statute itself give any court the authority to hear juvenile civil cases.   Consequently, no court in the state had legal authority to hear a case under the new law. Over prosecutors’ objections, the trial court threw out the case, and the court of appeals affirmed in early 2015.

The Slate article points out that this decision rendered the minor sexting statute essentially unenforceable. The more severe penalties for second and subsequent offenses kicked in only after conviction of a first offense, which could not happen because no court could hear the civil case for an initial offense. Slate therefore argues that the law made teen sexting “functionally legal” in Florida.

The legislature revisited the law in 2015, amending it to require a court to issue a non-criminal citation for a first offense under the statute.

Consult an Orlando juvenile offenses lawyer

The legislature’s fix to the statute means that your child may still be subject to prosecution for sending nude photos to friends or peers. Such charges still carry potentially serious consequences. If your child or a loved one has been charged with sexting or any other juvenile offense, you need an lawyer in your corner who is experienced at defending minors. The lawyers of The Baez Law Firm, with offices in Orlando and Miami, have the skill, resources and tenacity to defend both your rights and your child’s throughout the entire legal process. Contact The Baez Law Firm for a consultation today.

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