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Can a Teenager be Arrested for Texting Nude Photos?

Teens often communicate with each other via cell phones. Technology has advanced to the point where teens can send private text, picture and video messages via various social media platforms right from their cellular phone. Apps exist to immediately delete messages and hide the source of the sender and recipient. This technology, coupled with the prevalent use of cell phones by teens, means a greater opportunity exists for teens to send inappropriate message via these avenues, including nude photographs.

Law against teen sexting

Tennessee lawmakers have attempted to catch up with technology and passed a law illegalizing the practice of teen sexting. Tennessee’s law against sexual exploitation of children makes it illegal to possess images of a minor engaged in sexual activity. This law includes a prohibition of texting such sexual images of teens and equally applies to adults and minors. Therefore, someone who sends such images may be charged with a crime, even if the person sending the image is also a minor.

Additionally, a person who sexts with a minor child may be charged with other offenses in violation of state laws, such as distributing or making sexual available to a minor or producing, exchanging, possessing or distributing child pornography.

Federal charges

In addition to potentially facing serious state charges for this conduct, a minor may also be charged under the federal Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today Act (PROTECT Act). This charge makes it illegal to produce, receive, distribute or possess any obscene visual image of a minor child engaged in sexually explicit conduct with the intent to distribute it. It is also illegal to possess such content even if there is no intent to distribute it.

Other federal charges may arise, including:

  • Using a computer to transport child pornography
  • Promoting sexually explicit material involving a minor
  • Causing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct to create images

State penalties for sexting

Although an adult who sexts with a minor can be charged with a Class D felony and faces imprisonment of up to 12 years, the penalties for minor offenders are usually different. Minors are typically tried in juvenile court where the judge has more discretion and usually more incentive to try to rehabilitate the offender. However, even minor offenders charged with sex crimes can be placed on the sex offender registry, depending on the crime with which they are charged. Minors would later be required to report this registration on job and college applications.

Being convicted of a sex crime at a young age can forever change your teen’s life after one bad judgment call on their part. Our experienced Middle Tennessee criminal defense attorneys help you battle the complex juvenile justice system. We raise applicable defenses, such as the image being sent as a form of cyberbullying. Sometimes parents are charged in connection with these crimes if they are believed to have condoned this behavior or endangered their children. We fight diligently to protect your family’s best interests. We try to negotiate a favorable plea agreement when possible to avoid having your child charged with a sex crime that may lead to registration as a sexual offender. Contact Dotson and Taylor Attorneys at Law online or call 615-890-1982 to get started on your child’s defense strategy.