Sexting – Age is Not Just a Number

February 14, 2023 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes, Social Media

Sexting has become a common term when two people exchange text messages with sexually explicit context. Between two, consenting adults, this is totally fine. However, age plays a very important role when it comes to sexting. If either of the “sexters” is under the age of 18, it can turn into a criminal offense.

It is not surprising that Florida has a variety of different sex crimes and penalties. When it comes to sexting, it is no different. So how can someone know if what they’ve just sent is considered a legal sext, incriminating sext, or child pornography?

This article will provide information on Florida’s sexting law, child pornography charges, and other relevant information pertaining to sexting in Florida.

Sexting in Florida

It’s 2023, and technology is at its peak. It doesn’t matter if someone is 8 years-old or 82 years-old, it’s likely they own or use a cell phone, iPad, or other digital devices. While the advances in technology have plenty of positive benefits, there are also downsides to living in an ever-changing, fast-paced digital world.

One of the downsides is the possibility of being exposed to incriminating messages, photos, videos, or other content. When people think of sharing illicit content online, they usually think of people who are “pedophiles” who have been arrested for child pornography. While that isn’t incorrect, it is also not the only way a police officer can charge you with a criminal offense.

The state of Florida created a “sexting” law in 2011 when the state Legislature passed what they believed would prevent young children and teenagers from sending sexually explicit messages, images, or videos of themselves to other individuals. However, the first case dealing with sexting was difficult to prosecute, as Florida courts did not have jurisdiction over juveniles with civil matters.

Several years later in 2015, a new sexting law was passed that applied to juveniles and prevented the problems that arose from the first sexting law. The law went into effect on October 1st, 2015, and would require any person convicted of a third-time sexting offense to register as a sex offender for life. Even if they were a teenager.

Number of Teens who Sext

A 2019 study by FAU found that approximately 14% of teens in middle and high school have received a sexually explicit image or video from their boyfriend or girlfriend. An estimated 13.6% received the same type of explicit content from someone who was not considered a romantic partner. Around 11% reported that they had sent a sext to a romantic partner. The students questioned in the study reported that out of all the teens who had partners request sexts to be sent in the form of explicit images, videos, etc., 63.9% complied.

The study found the students who reportedly engaged in sexting had done so “a few times.” Fewer than 2% said they sexted many times, but 2.6% said they had received sexts many times.

It’s clear that, while it’s not a safe or ideal trend, sexting tends to take place among young people with cell phones or other digital devices. Yet, there are legal repercussions for those who are caught sexting explicit content to others, even if both are teenagers.

Florida Penalties for Minors Sexting

Florida Statute Section 847.0141 explains that a minor (person under 18) has committed the crime of sexting when he or she knowingly uses a computer, cell phone, or any other digital device capable of electronic data transmission or distribution to transmit or distribute to another minor any photograph or video of any person depicting nudity, and which is considered harmful to minors.

It is also considered a sexting crime for a minor to possess a photo, video, or other depiction of nudity, which was transmitted or distributed by another minor.

The only exemptions for the sexting law are if the minor did not solicit or request the image or video, or if the minor took the reasonable steps to report the photo or video to their parent, legal guardian, school, or law enforcement official.

For the first violation of sexting, the minor doesn’t face a criminal penalty. Instead, they must sign and accept a citation that indicates a promise to appear before the juvenile court. In lieu or instead of appearing in court, the juvenile can also complete 8 hours of community service work, along with paying a $60 civil fine. The minor may also be requested to participate in a cyber-safety program if such a program is locally available. However, it is important to note that any penalty must be completed by the minor within 30 days from the date of the citation.

For a second sexting violation—meaning after the juvenile had already completed the civil penalties and then committed the offense again—the defendant can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. The penalties for a first-degree misdemeanor are up to a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

For a third sexting violation, the defendant can be charged with a third-degree felony. The penalties for a third-degree felony include up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

Important: Florida law states that a juvenile in the possession of multiple photographs or videos which are categorized under the sexting statute and have been transmitted or distributed by a minor is a single offense if the content was transmitted within a 24-hour period.

When Sexting Becomes Child Pornography

The legal line gets crossed for “sexting” when it involves an adult over the age of 18. As mentioned above, if two consenting adults send explicit images and videos to each other, it is not a violation of the law. However, if one of the people on the receiving end of the sext is a minor and the other is an adult, the “sexting” accusation can now result in being charged with child pornography possession.

Florida takes sex crimes very seriously, and this is especially true when the offense involves minors. A person charged with child pornography possession can face lengthy prison sentences, pay expensive fines, and have to register as a sex offender in Florida.

Even possessing just one image will likely result in being charged with a child pornography charge, and the authorities can obtain a warrant to search all of your digital devices for any other incriminating content.

Florida Statute Section 827.071 explains that it is a violation for any person to knowingly possess, control, or intentionally view an image, video, or other depiction of child pornography. It is very important to note that each individual image, video, or other depiction can result in a separate child pornography offense. Any person who violates this law can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. A third-degree felony has penalties of up to a $5,000 fine and up to five years in prison. So if a person is found with ten depictions of child pornography on their computer, each can result in possibly another five years in prison.

In addition to the legal penalties, an adult who is convicted of possession of child pornography will be required to register with the Florida Sex Offender Registry. That means for the remainder of their life—unless they have secured a pardon or other post-conviction relief—their name, picture, address, and other personal information will be public record for anyone to view. Friends, family, potential jobs, and real estate agents assisting with purchasing a home can all be made aware of the person’s convicted status as a sexual offender. This type of conviction can impact the rest of your life.

Romeo and Juliet Law Not a Valid Defense

In 2007, the Florida Legislature Session created a possible defense for teenagers and young adults who are in both a romantic and sexual relationship. Prior to the new legislation, teenagers were facing the stigma and consequences that come with being labeled as sexual offenders or sexual predators after what both parties believed to be participating in a consensual relationship.

Florida Statute Section 943.04354 covers the law which is referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet” Law. The law provides those who qualify with the process of a motion or petition for the removal of the requirement to register as a sexual offender. Prior to the law, a 18 year-old and a 15 year-old who engaged in a consensual relationship—not uncommon since both those age groups are in a school setting together—would be subjected to register as a sexual offender due to the offense of “statutory rape.”

After being forced to register at such a young age, the individual would have to wait 20 years after completing his or her sentence, or if adjudication was withheld, then 10 years after being released from sanction to be removed from the sexual offender registry. That means a young adult, with their whole life ahead of them, would be severely hindering their school, career, and social life due to the implications of being registered as a sex offender.

However, the use of the Romeo and Juliet law provides the mechanism for the alleged offender to motion to remove the requirement if the specific criteria are met. For a person to use the Romeo and Juliet Law, the alleged victim must be at least 14 years-old. The accused offender can be no more than 4 years older than the victim at the time of the sexual engagement, and the victim must have consented to the sexual conduct.

The offenses in which the offender can be considered for registration relief under the Romeo and Juliet law are as follows:

Important: The Romeo and Juliet Law is only meant to address the requirement of registration for the Florida Sex Offender Registry. The law does not excuse or make any of the following offenses legal. Any of the sexual conduct associated with the above offenses is still a crime, even if both participants are minors and the act was consensual. In addition, the offender is limited to only one motion or petition. That means if the court does not grant or fulfill the requested motion or petition, the defendant will have to wait 25 years after the completion of their sentence until he or she can petition again.

In the instance of two people sexting each other, the Romeo and Juliet Law cannot be used as a defense. That means if one of the two sending explicit sexual content is a minor and the other is 18 or older, it is likely the resulting charges will be child pornography possession or distribution.

To find out more about the Romeo and Juliet Law, read our informative page here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

While sexting can be legal between two consenting adults, there are serious criminal implications that can arise depending on the age of the two individuals. Teenagers are not exempt from sexting, as they can receive both civil and criminal penalties from the Florida Sexting law.

Any adult who engages in sexting with a minor will not be facing sexting charges—but child pornography ones. Although the Romeo and Juliet Law is applicable to certain sex crimes involving minors, it is not a valid defense for an adult and minor who send sexually explicit images or videos to each other.

These rules and regulations can be difficult to follow and understand since Florida has specific laws for offenses dealing with the age of the alleged offenders. However, when it comes to being accused of a criminal offense with a sexual nature, the stakes are too high. Ending up on the Florida Sexual Offender Registry has the possibility of negatively impacting your future. Working with a skilled Tallahassee criminal defense attorney is the best bet for fighting a criminal accusation.

Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have worked with clients around Florida for years. We can assist with navigating the legal world, ensuring that your rights are protected and respected throughout the duration of the case. We will work tirelessly with you to build a strong defense for your case. If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime in Florida, contact Pumphrey Law Firm today for a free consultation. Call us at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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