The transmission of sexually explicit images, whether by email, text or video, is considered “sexting.” Generally, when two consenting adults use sexting together, it is not a crime. However, if a minor is involved, there can be serious criminal consequences. If you’re facing charges related to sexting, contact a lawyer, like a criminal lawyer from Richard J. Banta, P.C., for help immediately.
There can be more than one charge involved in sexting cases. If, for example, an adult sender receives a sexually explicit image of a minor, this constitutes possession of child pornography. This is charged as sexual exploitation of a child and is at least a Class 6 felony.
Another sexting crime involves luring over the Internet. This happens when an adult exchanges sexual messages with a person under 18 to try and get a meeting.
Penalties for illegal sexting involving an adult
A first-time adult offender who engages in sexting with a minor could face a Class 5 felony charge even if they only have a still image. This charge carries a potential sentence of one to three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
A repeat offender or an adult who had certain types of material can face stricter penalties. A second offense of sexual exploitation of a child is a Class 4 felony. The same applies to the possession of child pornography that is a video or another moving image or having more than 20 items of sexually exploitative material. The penalties for a Class 4 felony are a fine of up to $500,000 and a prison sentence of two to six years.
If an adult was involved in the distribution or making of child pornography–such as sending an image of a minor to someone else–that’s a Class 3 felony. This is punishable by fines of up to $750,000 and 12 years in prison. It’s worth noting that any person convicted of sexual exploitation of a child is required to register as a sex offender.
Penalties for sexting involving teens
Before 2017, the only way to charge minors involved in sexting was the felony exploitation of a child. Since then, Colorado passed a law that distinguishes between consensual sexting between teens and the malicious or abusive exchange of sexually explicit messages, video or images.
This law created a tiered system and details three offenses: posting, exchanging and possession. Exchanging is when a minor purposely exchanges their image or receives another person’s image with someone who is at least 14 or less than four years younger, and all minors involved believed the others consented to that exchange. Possession is when a minor has an image of a someone who is at least 14 or less than four years younger without consent. Posting occurs when a minor publishes, displays or distributes the image of someone who is at least 14 or less than four years younger without consent.
Exchanging is a civil offense. A minor may have to enroll in an educational program or pay a $50 fine. Possession is a petty offense, punishable by a fine and up to six months in jail. This can become a Class 2 misdemeanor if the person had 10 or more images of three or more people, and that’s punishable by 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Posting is also a Class 2 misdemeanor, but this can be charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor in some cases, such as if the minor intended to cause the person emotional distress. The penalties for a Class 1 misdemeanor are a jail sentence of up to 18 months and a $5,000 fine.