Juvenile Sexting

Sexting is generally understood as creating, sending, receiving or showing sexually-oriented content, including images and words, via cell phone, email, social media, or other online communications. Sexting between consenting adults (individuals over age 18) in and of itself is not unlawful; however, aggressive behavior may lead to criminal or civil liability for harassment, invasion of privacy, or other offenses. Whenever sexting involves a minor—someone who is under the age of 18—it is a crime, even when sexting takes place between two minors. Based on juvenile sexting laws in Ohio, a crime has been committed when a minor accepts, sends, or forwards a “sext,” receives a “sext” and keeps it, posts a “sext,” or shows it to someone else. The fact sexting might take place between consenting minors does not preclude criminal prosecution under Ohio law.

Under Ohio law, sexting between juveniles may result in felony charges under the Ohio Revised Code. R.C. 2907.322 prohibits the pandering of sexually oriented matter involving a minor, a felony of the fourth-degree. R.C. 2907.323 prohibits the illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance. The degree of felony under R.C. 2907.323 is largely dependent on how the nudity-oriented material or performance is used. It is a second-degree felony to transfer the material; a fourth-degree felony to consent to photographing a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance; and a fifth-degree felony to possess or view the material. A second or fourth-degree felony conviction will result in a mandatory prison term being imposed by the court at sentencing. Most notably, a juvenile can be charged as a sex offender for disseminating their own picture to another juvenile or an adult.

Juveniles who are convicted for sending, receiving, or sharing a sexually-oriented photo of a minor may also be labeled as sex offenders under the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law enacted in 2006 and adopted by the Ohio legislature in 2008. The Act provides a uniform method of determining sex offender classifications and the requirements of those classifications in states nationwide by using a Three-Tier Classification System. The Tier Classification System Requirements are as follows:

  • Tier I – Sex offenders must register with the County Sheriff at least once annually for a period of 15 years. In addition, must register any change of residential address, place of employment, or enrollment in a school or institution of higher education.
  • Tier II – Sex offenders must register with the County Sheriff every 180 days for a period of 25 years. In addition, must register any change of residential address, place of employment, or enrollment in a school or institution of higher education.
  • Tier III – Sex offenders must register with the County Sheriff every 90 days for life. In addition, must register any change of residential address, place of employment, or enrollment in a school or institution of higher education. Tier III sex offenders are also subject to community notification, which means upon a change of residential address, the County Sheriff will provide notice to a neighborhood within 1,250 feet of the sex offenders residential address. The County Sheriff will also provide notice to schools, registered day-care providers, and law enforcement agencies within the 1,250 foot radius.

Under Ohio law, a conviction for violating R.C. 2907.322 (“Pandering Sexually Oriented Material Involving a Minor” or R.C. 2907.323(A)(1) or (A)(2) (“Illegal Use of a Minor in Nudity-Oriented Performance”) results in a Tier II sex offender classification. A conviction of R.C. 2907.323(A)(3) may also result in a Tier I sex offender classification. Because of the Sex Offender Tier Classification requirements, juveniles may be easily confused with adults convicted of rape, gross sexual imposition, and other sex crimes against children. Moreover, teens convicted of sexting may face collateral consequences, including loss of college scholarships, revocation of college admission, or issues with continuing their education and graduation from high school. A conviction under R.C. 2907.322 or R.C. 2907.323 may also affect a convicted juvenile’s future ability to obtain necessary professional licenses or employment in a wide variety of public sectors.

Understanding & Adhering to Juvenile Sexting Laws in Columbus, Ohio

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that teens are educated about the possible direct and collateral consequences of sexting. Direct consequences are those that are ordered by the court, and can include fines, community service, rehabilitative programs, and/or incarceration. Direct consequences will vary from case-to-case, although, as mentioned above, in some cases there may be mandatory penalties. The Ohio Justice & Policy Center’s Collateral Consequences of Conviction Database can help juveniles understand the collateral—or “indirect”—effects of a criminal conviction.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien advises juveniles to immediately delete any “sext” messages received from another juvenile and to advise the sender of the possible ramifications of their actions. Juveniles and their parents are encouraged to contact the police if they are aware of or concerned about improper sexting. Police and prosecutors have the ability to use their discretion regarding prosecution, and may, where appropriate, use the opportunity to advise juveniles about the seriousness of their actions. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges due to juvenile sexting, please contact the Columbus juvenile sexting lawyers at Tyack Law today.

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