In Arizona, the practice of exchanging explicit self-portraits (commonly referred to as sexting) may result in a juvenile complaint or criminal charges if the explicit images involve an underage person. People under 18 years old who exchange sexually explicit pictures of themselves may be charged in juvenile court; while a person 18 years or older who sends, receives, or produces sexually explicit images of a person under 18 years old may be charged with a felony in the state’s superior court. This article discusses sexting of juveniles and minors specifically. Read more about the laws on adult sexting.
Arizona juvenile law contains statutes that directly address underage sexting. One of these statutes makes it unlawful for a juvenile (a person under 18 years old) to intentionally use an electronic communication device to send or display an image of a minor (a person who is under 18 years of age at the time the image is taken) that is sexually explicit. The same statute makes it unlawful for a juvenile to possess a sexually explicit image of a minor that was transmitted to the juvenile via an electronic communication device.
Arizona’s definition of electronic communication devices includes computer and computer networks and cell and wireless phones. Explicit sexual material is defined as material that shows human genitalia or nudity, sexual activity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.
A juvenile’s receipt of a sexually explicit image of a minor is not unlawful if the juvenile did not solicit the image and the juvenile took reasonable steps to destroy the image or reported it to a parent, guardian, teacher, or member of law enforcement.
If the juvenile shows or transmits the image to one person, the offense is a petty offense. If the juvenile shows or transmits the image to more than one person, the offense is a Class 3 misdemeanor. A juvenile who receives and possesses a sexually explicit image of a minor commits a petty offense. If the juvenile has a prior adjudication for unlawful use of an electronic communication device by a minor (or if the juvenile disposed of the prior charge by completing a diversion program), the new offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
A juvenile determined to be delinquent based on the juvenile’s sexting of images of himself or herself (or another minor) may be placed under probation supervision. The juvenile court judge may also impose up to a year of confinement in a juvenile detention center.
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § § 8-201, 8-309, 8-341, 13-707, 13-802, 13-3551, 13-3560)
Although Arizona’s juvenile laws will typically apply in situations involving sexting between juveniles, the state’s criminal laws come into play when an adult texts or otherwise transmits sexual images of a minor. An adult who transmits or receives such images faces the possibility of a substantial prison sentence if convicted under Arizona criminal law.
An adult commits the crime of sexual exploitation of a minor by photographing, recording, filming, developing, or duplicating any image showing a minor engaging in exploitative exhibition or other sexual conduct. Arizona law defines exploitive exhibition as the actual or simulated showing of a person’s genitals or pubic or rectal areas for the purpose of sexually stimulating the viewer.
An adult also commits sexual exploitation of a minor by electronically transmitting, exhibiting, purchasing, receiving, selling, possessing, or exchanging an image of a minor engaged in explotative exhibition or other sexual conduct.
Sexual exploitation of a minor is a Class 2 felony. If the defendant has no prior felonies and there are no aggravating or mitigating facts, as defined by Arizona law, then the judge will impose a presumptive prison sentence of 5 years. If the minor is under 15 years old and aggravating or mitigating factors exist, the crime is punishable by a presumptive sentence of 17 years imprisonment, with a minimum possible sentence of ten years imprisonment and a maximum possible sentence of 24 years imprisonment. For more information on sentences in Arizona, see Arizona Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences and Arizona Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences.
A person convicted of a felony in Arizona also faces a maximum fine of $150,000.
(Ariz. Rev. Stat. § § 13-702, 13-705, 13-801, 13-3551, 13-3553)
SEXTING AND FEDERAL LAW
Depending on the circumstances, sexting may also be a crime under federal law.
The Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 makes it illegal to produce, distribute, receive, or possess with intent to distribute any obscene visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Knowing possession of such material—without intent to distribute—is also a crime under the PROTECT Act. (18 U.S.C. § 1466A(a)(1).)
Federal law also criminalizes causing a minor to take part in sexually explicit conduct in order to visually depict that conduct. Parents who allow this behavior can also be prosecuted. (18 U.S.C. § 2251.)
It’s also a federal crime to use a computer to ship, transport, receive, distribute, or reproduce for distribution a depiction of a minor actually engaging in sexually explicit conduct, or any material that otherwise constitutes child pornography. It’s another federal crime to promote or solicit sexually explicit material involving a minor. (18 U.S.C. § § 2252, 2252A.)
But federal prosecution of juveniles for sexting may be unlikely. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA) generally provides that, where possible, juveniles should be prosecuted in state—not federal—courts. (18 U.S.C. § 5032.)
If you are accused of sexting sexual images of a minor, you should consult with an attorney. Regardless of whether you are a juvenile or an adult, the act of transmitting sexual images of a minor carries significant penalties, including possible incarceration. If you are an adult, the criminal penalties for such actions can include a substantial prison sentence and fine. An experienced attorney will evaluate your case and discuss possible defenses. An attorney will provide valuable guidance throughout the process while at the same time protecting your rights and freedom.