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Florida's Sexting Laws: What You (and Your Child) Need to Know

For years, “sexting” has presented a problem for legislators and public officials around the country. “Sexting” refers to the practice of juveniles sending nude pictures of themselves or others – usually taken with computers or smartphones – to other juveniles. When the phenomenon of sexting began, law enforcement officials were at a loss of how to discourage the practice. While refusing to impose any sanction or consequence would only encourage the practice to spread, the only criminal statute at the time that came remotely close to penalizing sexting-type behavior were child pornography laws. A conviction for possessing or distributing child pornography could result in serious sanctions for a juvenile, however, including the requirement that the juvenile register as a sexual offender for the remainder of his or her life.

Florida’s Sexting Law Offers an Alternative

Under a recently-passed Florida law, sexting is now handled in a much more responsible manner in the Sunshine State. “Sexting” is defined as possessing, transmitting, or distributing a nude picture of a person to another person when the picture is considered to be “harmful to minors.” A first violation of the sexting law results in a civil citation requiring the minor to appear in juvenile court and/or complete 8 hours of community service and pay a $60 civil penalty. In addition, the court may require the juvenile to attend a program on cyber-safety for minor children.

A second violation of the sexting law is punishable as a misdemeanor and subsequent violations are considered felony offenses.

It should be noted by both parents and their children, however, that sexting-type behavior can still be prosecuted under more serious statutes if the facts and circumstances warrant. For example, a juvenile who secretly takes a nude photograph of a fellow student and then distributes that photograph to others may have violated Florida’s stalking laws or other serious criminal statutes. Any photograph or visual recording of a minor or minors engaged in a sexual act (such as masturbation or sexual intercourse) may still fall under the purview of child pornography statutes.

What Can Parents Do if Their Children are Accused of Sexting?

If your child is accused of sexting, do not brush this off as “children being children.” Just because a teacher or other non-law enforcement-affiliated adult says that your child is going to be cited for sexting does not mean an overzealous prosecutor’s office would not consider filing child pornography charges or other serious charges against your child. Hire a criminal defense attorney who can investigate the facts and circumstances of the case. Depending on the circumstances of your child’s case, he or she may not even be guilty of sexting (if, for example, he or she received a nude picture without soliciting the picture, took prompt steps to alert law enforcement or his or her parents of the picture, and did not further distribute the picture to others).

South Florida criminal defense attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner represents clients throughout the Sunshine State who have been accused of committing criminal offenses. Contact his office at (305) 670-9919 for experienced legal assistance.

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