Sexting is when people share nude or sexually explicit images with others through the use of cell phones, the Internet, or other communication devices. Consenting adults don’t typically commit crimes when they sext, but teens who do so face significant potential consequences. Because most teens are children, many states consider teen sexting a child pornography offense.
On the other hand, some states, such as Florida, have changed their laws to specifically address teens and sexting. These states have adopted laws that create specific teen sexting crimes, instead of applying the harsher child pornography crimes to situations where teenagers share nude or explicit images.
For a more detailed discussion of teen sexting laws and how they apply, read Teen Sexting.
Minors (person under the age of 18) in Florida commit the crime of sexting when they knowingly use any computer or electronic communication device to distribute any image or video that depicts nudity or sexual conduct to another minor.
Sexting also applies to any situation where a minor receives and possesses a nude or explicit image transmitted by another minor.
However, if the recipient did not solicit the photo, did not transmit or distribute it to others, and took reasonable steps to report the transmitted photo to a guardian, school official, or law enforcement official, that minor has not committed the crime of sexting.
Minors committing a sexting violation commit either a non-criminal violation, a misdemeanor of the first degree, or a felony of the third degree, depending on the circumstances.
(Florida Statutes section 847.0141)
Anyone in Florida who knowingly transmits any image that depicts a minor engaging in sexual conduct commits the crime of transmission of pornography by electronic device or equipment. This crime also applies to situations where someone outside of Florida transmits any sexual image of a minor to someone within the state.
Transmitting child pornography in Florida is a third-degree felony.
(Florida Statutes section 847.0137)
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.)
The different penalties that apply to any sexting case will differ significantly based on the circumstances of the crime, the specific crime involved, and whether the teen is a juvenile or an adult.
Even though Florida’s law now allow for non-child pornography charges in cases where teens engage in sexting, being investigated for, or charged with any type of crime is always a serious situation. A local criminal defense attorney who has experience in local Florida courts and who understands how the Florida laws apply to teens is the only person you should speak to for legal advice.