Few of us lament the incredible advances in technology the past few years that have brought us the I-phone and other hand-held devices that operate as phone, camera, GPS, and offer the ability to text, make videos, send and receive email and to search for and receive information on nearly any topic we want.
Along with these innovations, however, are dangers of driving while texting, cyber bullying, and the practice of sexting. Sexting is simply the practice of sending explicitly sexual images in text messages. Although the majority of these images are only meant for the recipient, usually a girlfriend or boyfriend, if minors are involved they can end up in the hands of parents, teachers and ultimately the police.
New Hampshire has no specific laws regarding sexting although legislation may be forthcoming. Law enforcement and the courts have to rely on existing laws that outlaw the production, possession, and distributing of images of minors engaged in sexual acts, which is a felony.
Adults and Sexting
Nude pictures are not of themselves obscene, but an adult who sends nude photos of herself, or himself, to a minor is a crime. Recently, a Londonderry high school teacher sent nude photos of herself to a student, a minor, and was charged with indecent exposure. In New Hampshire, indecent exposure can be a class B felony if the teacher in this case purposely transmitted nude images of herself to a child less than 16 years of age. This also includes transmitting such images to a person the offender reasonably believes to be under 16.
If the individual who received the teacher's sexting image was 16 or older, the teacher could face only misdemeanor charges. If a first offense, the teacher would typically not have to register as a sex offender.
Other charges such as sexual harassment or obscene behavior is associated with sexting if the offender engages in making repeated contact with another person with the intent to annoy him or her and uses obscene language.
Minors and Sexting
While there may not be any reliable statistics, it may be obvious that many teens and pre-teens do send sexually explicit images of themselves to their boyfriends or girlfriends, or to others.
It is also obvious that this group is unaware of the seriousness of the practice and the implications.
The Rockingham County Attorney reported that his office had received complaints of nude photos of minors being distributed over cellphones in the past few years, but only after they were brought to the attention of parents or teachers. Students who engage in this practice could face federal charges of manufacturing or disseminating child pornography or of endangering the welfare of a minor.
In other states where similar incidents have occurred, students have been threatened with child pornography prosecution, but issues over whether the images were intended to be disseminated to other parties either led to lesser charges, dismissal, or some other resolution.
The dangers to students are clear. If sexual images of minors are sent in text messages and other students or those seeking child pornography receive the images, the one who originally sent the images could be charged with a sex crime as could other students who disseminated them.
Other Legal Implications of Sexting
There is a movement among legislators in Congress and in state bodies to charge sexting by minors as a misdemeanor.
Students who send images over their cellphones are not sexual predators and most are totally unaware of the implications of their actions.
In New Hampshire, minors caught texting may only face juvenile court intervention rather than charges that could result in being charged as an adult and possibly convicted of possessing, producing and/or distributing child pornography, which would likely lead to prison and having to register as a sex offender for life.
For adults, however, they face the very real possibility of being labeled as a sex offender and facing years in jail, loss of any professional license, and severe restrictions in other areas of their lives.
Other possible charges along with a sexting offense include the following:
- Manufacture, distribution or possession of sexually explicit images
- Indecent exposure
- Endangering the welfare of a minor
- Lewd conduct
- Obscene behavior
- Sexual harassment
Do not take any of these offenses lightly regardless if you have been charged with a misdemeanor or felony. Ryan Russman has successfully represented clients accused of sex crimes throughout New Hampshire in both state and federal courts. Your future depends on skilled legal advocacy. Contact Ryan Russman for any of your criminal defense needs.