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Teen Sexting Could Be Outlawed in Pa.

Teens in Pennsylvania could face fines for using their cell phones to send explicit photos

By ERIC BOEHM/Pa Independent

HARRISBURG – Under state law, two 17-year olds in Pennsylvania can legally have sexual intercourse, but they might soon face fines if caught sending naked pictures via their cell phones.

Legislation headed to Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk would ban minors from engaging in the so-called practice of “sexting,” in which individuals send naked pictures of themselves or others via cell phone or other mobile device.  Offenders could be subject to anything from a summary offense, which involves only a fine, to a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a potential penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

A teen sexting scandal rocked a Lehigh Valley community last year.

The bill prohibits judges from sentencing teens to prison if they are caught “sexting,” and the second-degree misdemeanor would only kick-in if the images were being used in an abusive way or to bully someone.

If signed into law, HB 815 will apply to individuals between the ages of 13 and 17, even though the age of consent for sexual activity in Pennsylvania is 16.

The state House voted 188-3 on Wednesday to approve the bill after it passed the state Senate earlier that day by a vote of 37-12.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, who sponsored the bill, said the law was a response to cases in which sexually explicit images were spread beyond the two people involved in the relationship. In York County, a “sexted” picture wound up on a sex offender’s computer, he said.

“It’s not just about two people in a relationship, it’s getting out there,” Grove said.

Under current law, “sexting” would be punished under child pornography laws – if it was punished at all – and since that is a felony, it would follow those teens for the rest of their lives, Grove said.

Since the new offense would be a juvenile offense, it would be eligible to be expunged.

If the picture involved someone younger than 13 or older than 18, it could still be prosecuted under child pornography laws.

Last Tuesday, state Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, said the legislation was well-intentioned but ultimately harmful.

“I don’t think these issues belong in criminal court,” she said. “They’re just kids being kids and being stupid. I really think we need to rethink this.”

State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Allegheny, said the measure “makes no sense whatsoever in my opinion.”

The bill also allows police to seize any cell phone used for “sexting” and hold it under the state’s forfeiture laws, which eliminate the owner’s right to the property.

Rich Cranium October 23, 2012 at 01:57 PM
"Under current law, “sexting” would be punished under child pornography laws – if it was punished at all – and since that is a felony, it would follow those teens for the rest of their lives, Grove said." This is the important part of this bill, I do fear that by decreasing the penalty that it will cause increased conviction rates for "sexting." However I think it is worth taking the risk, having that felony charge on your record would really ruin your life, and over something so insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
tamarya October 23, 2012 at 04:06 PM
I agree it should be punished, but not to that extreme. I think our laws over punish people, including adults, that should receive nothing more than fines and they do not give enough punishment to young teens that commit serious crimes, like murder or serious harm to another person physically.
tamarya October 23, 2012 at 04:08 PM
I think a simple punshment to sexting and the best punishment is mom and dad cut the teen's cell service and take the phone, problem solved. As for if they drive and would benefit from the phone, all I got to say to that is they should have thought before they used the phone for what they did.
Maire October 23, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Watch this video http://www.worldstarhiphop.com/videos/video.php?v=wshhB14ErL1l5uDjqTdC and you will understand what this law is about. The young girl who made this video was horribly bullied after "sexting" an image....and she is now dead. It seems to me that the point of the law is to make it "scary" so that teens don't do it. I understood this as saying the felony charge won't be enforced except in cases of bullying, but of course the penalty will always be up to a judge. The fact is you have no control over what happens to an image once you send it to another person and teens just don't seem to grasp this truth. better to scare them with a juvenile charge than identify them in the morgue.
tamarya October 23, 2012 at 08:27 PM
They will grasp the truth if we tell them the truth as parents instead of sugar coating to prevent scarring them. I know once my kids start using the computer as teenagers I am not sugar coating anything, they will get told very bluntly that talking to the wrong person could leave you dead or violated in a way you never want to be. And clearly explain that is why we give no info or pictures on a computer.

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