Teen Sexting in Colorado

Sending nude, sexual, or otherwise explicit images via cell phone, through Internet messaging, or by similar means is commonly known as sexting. Consenting adults who engage in sexting haven't typically committed a crime, but when a teenager chooses to sext, it can be a criminal offense.

Some states have laws that specifically address teenagers who sext, while others don't. In states with sexting laws, teens face much lower penalties than they do in states that don’t have such laws. In states that have not specifically addressed sexting, teens who sext can often be charged with child pornography crimes because the sexual or nude images they send are of people under the age of 18. For more information about sexting laws, read about laws on adult sexting.

Colorado isn't one of the states that have adopted legislation that specifically addresses teenagers who sex. Because of this, teens who engage in sexting in Colorado can be, and have been, charged with significant crimes.

Sexual Exploitation of a Child

In Colorado, a person commits sexual exploitation of a child when that person knowingly

  • causes or permits a minor (a person younger than 18) to engage in sexual conduct in order to make a sexual image of such a person
  • possesses or controls any sexual image of a minor
  • prepares any sexual image of a minor for publication or distribution through electronic means, or
  • possesses with intent to sell or distribute any sexual image of a minor.

Depending on the circumstances of the crime, sexual exploitation of a child in the state of Colorado is either a Class 3, 4, or 6 felony offense. (Colorado Revised Statutes Annotated § 18-6-403.)

Internet Sexual Exploitation of a Child

Internet sexual exploitation of a child in Colorado occurs when the actor invites, entices, or convinces a person the actor knows or believes to be younger than 15 to engage in “cyber sex.” Cyber sex occurs when people use text messaging, web cameras, or similar communication devices to send sexually explicit messages or images to others. To commit internet sexual exploitation of a child the actor must try to get the child to do any of the following while interacting with the actor through the Internet or other electronic means:

  • expose or touch his or her intimate parts,
  • expose or touch another person’s intimate parts, or
  • observe the actor’s intimate parts.

Sexual exploitation of a child is a Class 4 felony. (Colorado Revised Statutes Annotated § 18-3-405.4.)


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.)


Depending on whether a teenager is 18 or older, he or she can be charged with a sexting-related crime as either an adult or juvenile. There are significant differences between the potential penalties a person faces depending on whether he or she is charged as an adult.

  • Juvenile Penalties. If the juvenile commits a sexting crime in Colorado, he or she will go through the juvenile justice process. In that process, courts and prosecutors have much broader discretion in determining appropriate sentences. For example, a juvenile convicted of a sexting crime could face house arrest, probation, a fine, placement with a county social services department, or detention in a juvenile facility.
  • Adult Penalties. An adult convicted of a sexual exploitation charge in Colorado faces significant possible penalties. Depending on the circumstances, the court can impose up to 12 years in prison and fines of up to $750,000. Adults convicted of a sexting crime are considered sex offenders and must register themselves with a state sex offender registry. For a more detailed explanation of the kinds of penalties an adult convicted of a crime in Colorado can face, read Colorado Felony Crimes by Class and Sentences and Colorado Misdemeanor Crimes by Class and Sentences.

Talk to a Colorado Defense Attorney

Sexting in Colorado can have serious ramifications for a teenager. If you have been charged with a crime, approached by investigators, or believe you might have done something illegal, you should speak to a Colorado criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. You shouldn't talk to the police or make any decisions about your situation before you receive legal advice from an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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