When Is “Sexting” a Crime in Texas?
As every Collin County parent knows, your teenager communicates with their friends primarily by text message. Texting allows people to stay in touch constantly and quickly exchange personal messages. But remember, texting is not entirely private–and anything your child sends or receives over a communications network may be grounds for criminal prosecution, especially if it involves “sexting.”
What Is “Sexting”?
Sexting is a popular term for sending sexually explicit messages, photographs, or other images via a mobile phone. According to a survey published by DoSomething.org, a nonprofit organization that encourages youth activism, about 40 percent of teenagers in the U.S. “have posted or sent sexually suggestive messages” to other people. The majority of teen sexting–about 70 percent–do so with their girlfriend or boyfriend.
Despite its popularity, some forms of teenage sexting are illegal in Texas. The Texas Penal Code prohibits a minor–someone under the age of 18–from “intentionally or knowingly” using any “electronic means” to send “visual material depicting a minor” engaging in “sexual conduct” to another minor. The minor depicted can be the sender, i.e. sending a naked selfie of herself.
It is also a criminal offense to possess any visual material depicting a minor engaged in sexual conduct if the possessor produced said material or knows another minor who did. In other words, if teenager A sends a naked selfie to teenager B, both are considered in violation of the statute.
Normally, violation of the Texas “sexting” law is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of no more than $500 and no jail time. However, if a minor uses sexting to “annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend another,” or has a prior sexting conviction, the charge can be elevated to a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail.
What Defenses Are Available to Teen Sexting Charges?
So is it really a crime for your teenager daughter to send a provocative picture of herself to her boyfriend? Not necessarily. There is an “affirmative defense” available in such circumstances provided the following conditions are met:
- The minor only sent a picture of himself or herself to their respective partner;
- The minor is in a “dating relationship” with the other person; and
- There is no more than a two-year age difference between the minor and the other person.
It is also a defense for someone charged with receiving an illegal “sext” to demonstrate that they destroyed the offending “within a reasonable amount of time” after receiving it.
Do You Need a Collin County Criminal Defense Attorney?
It may sound silly to you that the State of Texas regulates teenage sexting. But this is no joking matter. If your teenager is convicted, even of a Class C misdemeanor, that becomes a permanent part of their criminal record. If the police have charged your teen with illegal sexting or other sex crimes in Texas, you need to contact a qualified Collin County sex crimes lawyer right away. Contact the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas, if you need to speak with a Collin County criminal defense attorney today.