As communication technology has continued to advance at a rapid pace, lawmakers across the country have faced the issue of teenagers sharing nude or explicit images with one another, a practice known as sexting. Under many existing laws, these actions would be considered acts of child pornography. But some state legislatures have recognized that adults who engage in child pornography are very different than hormonal teenagers who share pictures with each other; these legislatures have therefore adopted new laws that better reflect this understanding.
In states that have adopted new teen sexting laws, such as Louisiana, teenagers face less serious consequences than they would had they engaged in sexting in a state where child pornography charges still apply.
If you’d like to know more about sexting crimes generally, read Teen Sexting.
In Louisiana, people younger than 17 are prohibited from knowingly and voluntarily using a computer, cell phone, or other telecommunications device to transmit indecent images they take of themselves. It’s also a crime for someone younger the 17 to have or transmit an indecent image that was transmitted by another person younger than 17 who took the image of him or herself. (Louisiana Revised Statutes § 14:81.1.1.)
It’s also a crime in Louisiana to produce, promote, distribute, or possess any pornographic images or material that involve juveniles. This type of material includes any kind of film, image, photograph, or other reproduction that depicts people younger than 17 engaging in sexual conduct. Committing the crime of pornography involving juveniles in Louisiana is a felony offense. (Louisiana Revised Statutes § 14:81.1.)
Anyone in Louisiana who transmits or delivers an image or written communication to any person younger than 17 with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desires commits the crime of indecent behavior with juveniles. However, if the age difference between the juvenile and the person sending the written communication or image is two years or less, no crime has occurred. (Louisiana Revised Statutes § 14:81.)
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.)
Teenagers face a range of possible penalties if they are convicted of sexting crimes in Louisiana. The penalties differ significantly depending on the type of crime committed and the age of the people involved.
If you ever face a criminal charge or need legal advice, you should find an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorneys who work in your area will be able to evaluate your situation and give you advice based on their experience with the local criminal justice process. Whether you are a teenager, a parent of a teenager, or anyone else, you should to talk to an experienced attorney before you make statements to the police or investigators.