Teen “sexting” has become a common activity in a relatively short time. Armed with a plethora of mobile devices, the practice of sending nude or pornographic images throughout their social circle is getting young people in trouble across the U.S. This is because the activity can be charged as the distribution of pornography involving minors (under age 18). It is a federal offense [18 U.S.C. Section 2252] as well as a DC offense [DC Section 22-3102].
Although federal law generally requires that juveniles be prosecuted in federal court, the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA) states that, juveniles should be prosecuted in state—not federal—court, unless the United States Attorney General certifies to the local district court that, among other things, there is a substantial Federal interest in proceeding in federal court. [18 U.S.C. Section 5032]
The preference for local jurisdiction under the statute means the case will likely be tried in DC Superior Court. But that doesn’t mean federal law will not be applied in the case. The relative ages of the participants can also affect where the case ends up. If the pornographic images of a minor are distributed by a minor, it may be prosecuted in juvenile court. But if the distributor of these same images is 18 or over, the case will be tried in an adult court.
This means that the case could be prosecuted in Superior Court while penalties are governed by the federal . Any DC-area teenager who may be facing distribution of child pornography charges in either federal or DC Superior court may benefit from representation by a qualified and experienced defense attorney at the earliest opportunity.
Anyone who is convicted in DC Superior Court for sexting can face up to ten years in jail and a $37,500 fine for their first conviction. Subsequent convictions can bring a fine of up to $75,000 and twenty years in jail [Depending on the circumstances – and if there’s significant difference in the ages of the suspect and victim(s) in the sexted images – it is possible for an 18-year-old high-school senior to receive an adult sentence like the one outlined above for a first offense. Conviction in an adult court also mandates that the suspect register as a sex offender [Section 22-4001(9)].
But Superior court judges have discretion in handing down penalties for sexting. It depends on the facts of the case and the individuals involved. It’s possible that – for a first conviction – the defendant instead could receive probation and a fine of a few hundred dollars, and be sentenced to home confinement (with monitoring device), counseling, and community service and have their Internet activities severely restricted (or suspended) until they complete their probation period.
Juveniles who are convicted of sexting in DC might escape the full measure of punishment. DC juvenile court judges have even greater latitude in handing down sentences based on the circumstances surrounding the crime. Juvenile punishments upon conviction can involve:
For more serious sexting offenses, such as distribution across state lines and/or if images have been shared with an unusually large number of recipients, especially if suspects are over the age of 18, they can be indicted and punished under the PROTECT Act of 2003 [Sections 2251, 2252 and 2256]. There may be exceptions surrounding the actual age of the minor or the comparative ages of the suspect and the minor that could affect sentencing. A guilty verdict under 18 U.S.C. § 2251 could result in a fine of up to $15,000 and a minimum prison sentence of 15 years. And, if convicted, registration as a sex offender is mandatory [Sections 151(1)].
Regardless of whether the case is tried in a federal, local, or juvenile court, all who are found guilty of sexting will likely have a sex crime conviction on their record. This will affect their future employment opportunities. They might be at risk of being denied admission to the college or university of their choice. They will find themselves unwelcome in other countries, and they could have difficulty getting a passport. If they’re not a citizen, deportation is possible. For this reason those accused may want to contact an experienced DC child pornography lawyer.
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