As communication technology continues 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 states' 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 from teenagers who share pictures with each other.
In states that have adopted new teen sexting laws, such as Louisiana, teenagers face less serious consequences than teens who sext in a state where a prosecutor’s only charging option is child pornography.
If you’d like to know more about sexting crimes generally, read Teen Sexting.
Louisiana's juvenile sexting law gives prosecutors a charging option other than harsh felony charges for acts relating to pornography and indecent behavior with juveniles.
Louisiana's sexting law prohibits minors younger than 17 from knowingly and voluntarily using a computer, smartphone, or other telecommunications device to exchange indecent selfies. Indecent selfies are images that show sexually explicit conduct, which includes the lewd exhibition of the genitals, pubic area, or female breast nipples.
For acts involving sending indecent selfies, the minor would be sent through child protection services (called "families in need of services"), rather than delinquency proceedings.
For possessing or disseminating another teen’s indecent selfie, the statute lays out the penalties, which include the following fines and possible detention:
A teen must perform community service if placed on probation.
(La. Rev. Stat. § 14:81.1.1 (2020); La. Child. Code. art. 726 (2020).)
It’s also a crime in Louisiana to produce, 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 any sexual performance by a person younger than 17. Sexual performance includes lewd exhibition of the genitals or anus or any actual or simulated act of sexual intercourse or masturbation.
Committing the crime of pornography involving juveniles in Louisiana is a felony offense, with penalties ranging from five to 40 years’ imprisonment. Penalties can be doubled if the victim is younger than 13 and the offender is 17 or older.
(La. Rev. Stat. § 14:81.1 (2020).)
Louisiana also makes it a crime to transmit or send an image or written communication to a juvenile who is younger than 17 and at least two years younger than the sender, with the intent to arouse or gratify sexual desires. The crime of indecent behavior with juveniles is a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. If the victim is younger than 13 and the offender is 17 or older, the punishment increases to up to 25 years in prison.
(La. Rev. Stat. § 14:81 (2020).)
Minors younger than 18 fall under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and are "adjudicated delinquent," not convicted. Juvenile court judges typically have more discretion than adult court in handing down "dispositions" (called sentences in adult court), such as ordering counseling or community service.
Teenagers who are 18 or 19 automatically end up in adult court. Louisiana's law does allow certain minors to be transferred to adult court but only for certain crimes not applicable here. (La. Child. Code. art. 804 and following (2020).)
Juveniles (younger than 18) adjudicated delinquent for any of the above crimes are not subject to sex offender registration.
Adults convicted of indecent behavior with juveniles or pornography involving juveniles must register as sex offenders.
(La. Rev. Stat. §§ 15:541, 15:542 (2020).)
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.