Sexting refers to the sharing of nude or sexually explicit images with others through the use of smartphones, the Internet, or other communication devices. Consenting adults don’t typically commit crimes when they sext, but teens (many of whom are minors) who sext can face significant potential consequences.
States have taken various approaches to address teen sexting. Some have enacted laws prohibiting sexting between minors. These laws tend to have penalties that aren’t as severe as when an adult sexts with a minor. Others punish sexting under preexisting laws against child enticement and child pornography, which often have harsh penalties.
Florida is one of the states that has enacted legislation specifically addressing teen sexting. The law offers prosecutors a charging option that allows minors (those younger than 18) to avoid a felony record and sex offender registration.
Florida prohibits sexting by and between minors (persons younger than 18). A first violation results in noncriminal penalties. Subsequent violations are punishable by criminal penalties.
Sending. Minors violate the sexting law by knowingly using any computer or electronic communication device to distribute to another minor any image or video that depicts nudity and is harmful to minors.
Receiving. A minor also violates the law by receiving and possessing a nude image transmitted by another minor. However, the law provides that no violation is committed 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.
First violation. For a first violation, the minor receives a noncriminal citation that outlines the following options: complete eight hours of community service, pay a $60 penalty, participate in a cyber-safety program, or contest (challenge) the citation in court. The minor has 30 days to complete one of the options.
If the minor contests the citation and loses, the court may order any of the above three options. A minor who doesn’t respond to the citation can be ordered to appear in court, and upon finding the minor in contempt, the court can impose additional penalties—such as suspending issuance or privileges of a driver’s license.
Additional charges. Florida’s sexting law does not prevent a prosecutor from charging a minor with other crimes if the nude image depicts sexual conduct or sexual excitement. The prosecution may also bring harassment charges (including cyberstalking), if applicable.
(Fla. Stat. § 847.0141 (2019).)
Sexting images of minors can also result in charges for child pornography. Anyone (minor or adult) 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.
Electronic transmission of child pornography in Florida is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of $5,000, or both.
(Fla. Stat. §§ 775.082, 775.083, 847.0137 (2019).)
The authorities usually handle offenses committed by minors through the juvenile justice system, not the adult criminal system. In Florida, minors age 14 or older can be transferred to adult court and face adult penalties, but for crimes listed in this article, transfer to adult court is discretionary.
Juvenile courts have wider discretion in the types of penalties they can impose compared to adult court. Florida’s Juvenile Justice Act outlines various options for a minor "adjudicated delinquent" (the term used for conviction in juvenile court), including substance abuse treatment, restitution, curfew, driver’s license revocation, community service, educational programming, and detention.
(Fla. Stat. §§ 985.433, 985.556, 985.557 (2019).)
An adult convicted of electronically transmitting child pornography must register as a sexual offender in Florida. Juveniles adjudicated delinquent on child pornography or sexting charges are not required to register.
(Fla. Stat. §§ 943.0435, 943.4815 (2019).)
Any charges that stem from sexting involving minors or teens can result in serious consequences for those involved. If you’ve been questioned by the police or charged with a sexting crime, you should speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. An experienced attorney will be able to provide you with legal advice and information on the potential consequences of the charges against you.