Ohio considers anyone under the age of eighteen (18) to be a minor. Laws enacted to protect juveniles prohibit the use of minors in nudity-oriented material or performances and the taking, sending, sharing, and possession of sexually explicit photos of minors. These laws were originally intended to deter and punish adults for the unlawful consumption and distribution of child pornography, but they can and have been used to punish minors who engage in sexting with another minor.
Ohio generally prosecutes sexting involving minors under one of three statutes:
- R.C. 2907.321: Pandering obscenity involving a minor,
- R.C. 2907.322: Pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, or
- R.C. 2907.323: Illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material or performance.
As those statutes currently stand, it does not matter if the person who took or received a sexually explicit image is a teenager. Indeed, a juvenile who takes and sends a picture of him or herself to another juvenile may be charged with violating one or more Ohio laws against pandering involving a minor.
For adult offenders, a first-time charge for pandering is usually a second-degree felony punishable by up to 8 years in prison and placement in Tier II of the national sex offender’s registry. People in Tier II face going back to prison if they do not check in with their county sheriff every three (3) months for twenty-five (25) years. While courts generally impose less-harsh sentences for juveniles who commit criminal offenses, a juvenile who sends, receives, shares, or possesses photos of a juvenile—including photos of him or herself—will undoubtedly face serious criminal and collateral consequences if convicted for juvenile sexting in the form of pandering.
An experienced and knowledgeable Columbus defense attorney who is familiar Ohio’s laws pertaining to juvenile sexting will work with an accused teen and his or her family to prevent such dire criminal and collateral civil consequences. But some commonsense changes to the laws that cover sexting are in order.
Diversion and Discouragement Rather Than Jail
In 2017, members of the Ohio Legislature were asked to consider House Bill 355 (HB 355), which would add a new section to the state statutes on sex offenses. The proposed law would give high school and middle school students a chance to make one sexting mistake without incurring a felony record. First-time offenders who are younger than 18 could accept a misdemeanor sentence or complete an education and diversion program. Licking County already uses a system like this, but HB 355 would make the alternative sentencing available across Ohio.
The defense attorneys at Tyack Law Firm who handle juvenile sexting cases think this approach shows promise. However, any such law would need to tightly restrict the ages of people engaged in exchanging sexually explicit images to between 13 and 18 and also make it clear that sending harassing sexts, regardless of the ages of the sender and receiver, could still be a serious offense.
Sharing sexually oriented text messages beyond the intended recipient is another issue that comes up with juvenile sexting. Until otherwise addressed by the Ohio Legislature, it is imperative that juveniles who create, send, or receive a message containing sexually oriented material to or from another juvenile should immediately delete the message and avoid reproducing it or sharing it with others. If the sext is unwanted, the recipient should clearly communicate that to the juvenile who sexted them.
It is also prudent for juveniles to inform other juveniles about the possible legal ramifications of sexting to other minors, even if a minor consents to receiving such messages. Distributing nude images or pictures of others in compromising positions without their knowledge or permission will always be considered criminal conduct under Ohio law, especially when the people shown are younger than 18.
What to Do When a Teen Is Charged for Sending Dirty Pictures
Since existing Ohio juvenile sexting laws are so strict, contacting a criminal defense attorney as soon as charges for pandering or related computer crimes seem possible is essential. Enlisting the advice and representation of a lawyer will protect the teen from unfair treatment by investigators and ensure that parents or guardians are allowed to advocate on behalf of their child. Another important service an attorney can provide is dealing with reporters, who may take a special and intrusive interest in a case involving students and alleged sex offenses.
Criminal defense lawyers at Tyack Law Firm in Columbus, Ohio represent criminal defendants charged with a range of felony and misdemeanor offenses, including pandering obscenity involving a minor, pandering sexually oriented matter involving a minor, and illegal use of minor in nudity-oriented material or performances. If you or someone you know is facing a criminal prosecution for juvenile sexting, you can request an appointment with one of our attorneys by calling us at (614) 221-1342 or filling in this online contact form.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from the Tyack Law Firm Co., L.P.A., or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel or representation on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country, county, or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.