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Law meant to include sexting within juvenile offenses

Florida readers may be aware of debate surrounding the practice of teenage "sexting," in which teens send explicit photos to one another via cell phones. The matter has caused contention within the state as parents and lawmakers struggle to address the practice. Laws have been passed to try and curb the distribution of illicit photos of minors by including the act among juvenile offenses, but the matter still leads to confusion between lawmakers, prosecutors and the courts.

Initially, the act of sending nude photos was treated as a serious crime. In fact, in one case an 18-year-old was sentenced to five years probation and required to be listed on the sex offender registry after he sent a nude picture of his 16-year-old girlfriend to some of the girl's friends. Lawmakers felt that this level of punishment was excessive for what was a youthful lapse of judgment, and a new law was passed in 2011 that decriminalized sexting by a minor if the act was a first offense.

The first time a minor sends nude photos, he or she will be subjected to either a small fine, eight hours of community service or a mandatory training program. Subsequent offenses become criminal in nature. Under the current law, sexting is a misdemeanor offense on the second conviction and felony offenses on subsequent instances.

This has led to an issue for Florida courts, however, due to the fact that a first act of sexting is no longer considered a crime. As such, there can be no conviction for a first offense, and therefore no second or subsequent offenses. This, lawmakers feel, has created a loophole in which sexting cannot be punished as juvenile offenses. A bill is currently in the works to address the matter. In the meantime, parents are encouraged to discuss this issue with their teenage children, and add the potential criminalization of the act to the long list of reasons why sharing nude photos is a poor decision.

Source: tampabay.com, "Florida lawmakers to revisit sexting law to fix inadvertent loophole", Kathleen McGrory, Feb. 3, 2015

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