Colorado legislature tackles teen sexting

Colorado has a law in place that makes sexting a felony, even if the act is between two consenting juveniles.

More and more young people in Colorado and across the country now own cellphones, opening up a world of communication at their fingertips. Though phone conversations and emailing are commonplace, a study from 2012 indicates that sexting - or sending sexually explicit text messages - is a growing activity.

According to the research published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, 28 percent of the high school students surveyed admitted to sexting. While it may seem innocent, Colorado law actually considers it to be a crime. The legislature recently took up the issue, shedding light on current statutes and how they could harm teenagers.

Prompting action

A report in the Coloradoan notes that last year, dozens of students at a Canon City high school were suspended after more than 100 were found to have sexually explicit images of their peers. No criminal charges were filed in the case, however, because prosecutors stated that current law is ambiguous regarding what constitutes a sexual predator and what should happen to teenagers who make the decision to sext.

The law

Currently, the Colorado Revised Statutes permit for someone younger than 18 who sends or receives a sext to be charged with sexual exploitation of a child, which is a felony even if the act is consensual. This law covers the following behaviors:

  • Knowingly permitting a child to either engage in or be used for explicit sexual conduct
  • Publishing or sharing sexually explicit materials a child
  • Possessing sexually explicit materials involving a child

Someone who is convicted of such a crime - even a juvenile - may face a lifetime listing on the Colorado sex offender registry in addition to other penalties.

Up for discussion

The Coloradoan reports that a state House of Representatives committee tackled this law, setting its sights on reducing the penalties a teen would receive in the event he or she was convicted for sexting. As stated above, the current charge is a felony, but the proposed changes could enable prosecutors to charge a juvenile with either a petty offense or a misdemeanor. However, opponents to the bill stated that the proposal still criminalizes this consensual sexual activity, which could lead to unjust punishments for teenagers.

The committee voted down the measure. However, lawmakers acknowledge that there is serious public interest in taking action. It is possible that the state legislature will take another look at the current law, hopefully making revisions that would protect juveniles from facing stiff penalties for consensual behavior.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should consult with a criminal defense attorney in Colorado.