Can Teenagers Get Arrested for Sexting in Tennessee?
20 January 2018IN: Family Law
Let your teens know that sexting carries legal consequences
With advances in technology and increased technology use, new legal issues have come to light. One such issue involves teens engaged in “sexting.” Sexting refers to transmitting nude or suggestive photos via text message. It has become increasingly commonplace as more and more teenagers have access to their own cell phones. The practice of teen sexting has been troubling as it involves the transmittance or distribution of sexually suggested images of minor children. This will sometimes trigger laws involving child pornography and sexual exploitation of children.
In the past, Tennessee has penalized teen sexting under its law prohibiting sexual exploitation of children. This law was intended to criminalize possession and distribution of child pornography. It applies to both adults and minors, meaning that a person under 18 who is sexting is included. While this is the law that has applied to teenage sexting in Tennessee, age has always been a consideration as far as sentencing goes and a minor facing this charge will more than likely face different penalties than an adult.
As a Class D felony, penalties for sexual exploitation are severe and include:
- 2 to 12 years in prison;
- Fine up to $5,000; or
If the sexually suggestive content was distributed as child pornography, penalties include:
- Up to 30 years in prison;
- Fine up to $25,000; or
Federal laws pertaining to child pornography may also be applicable for teen sexting purposes. However, the Federal Juvenile Delinquent Act (FJDA) generally directs that juveniles should be prosecuted in state and not federal courts.
If you think it seems strange to have sexting minors prosecuted under the same sexual exploitation laws as adults distributing child pornography, you are not alone. In fact, a new Tennessee law took effect in July 1, 2017 so that minors in possession or sending sexually suggestive images of another minor, while still criminalized, will be considered an unruly act. The punishment in teen sexting cases will be left up to the judge in juvenile court and determined on an individual case basis. The new law recognizes that, while teen sexting needs to be curbed, teens who are sexting should not be labeled as felons or grouped in with sex offenders for committing this offense.