Kids as young as middle school age now have smartphones, tablets, and laptops with them all the time. Using social media platforms is second nature to them. Teens prefer to communicate through texts and other instant messaging media rather than interacting face-to-face. Along with the convenience of immediate and seemingly private messaging came the opportunity to electronically share sexually explicit photographs, videos, and messages with minors.
Sending, sharing, or even storing these materials on a device can lead to criminal prosecution, prison, and a sex offender label for life.
In Tampa, or anywhere in Hillsborough or Pinellas Counties, if you are contacted or questioned about any text of a sexual nature being exchanged with a minor, contact the experienced criminal defense team at Stechschulte Nell, Attorney at Law. The offense is popularly called “Sexting,” but Florida law declares an adult sending or receiving sex texts with a minor to be a 3rd-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in state prison and a $5,000 fine.
In some circumstances, electronic transmission of some sexually explicit images surpasses “sexting” and is prosecuted as 2nd-degree felonies with penalties as high as 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each transmission.
SEXTING – Texting Sexual Content
The term “sexting” is a blending of the words “sex” and “texting.” Sexting itself is not necessarily illegal if it occurs between consenting adults and does not violate child porn laws. Sexting can describe any text of a sexual nature. It could be a text containing still photos or video clips of sexually suggestive conduct, nudity, or explicit images. Sexting also includes sending or receiving texts using sexually charged language, discussions, descriptions, or invitations to view or perform sex acts.
When an adult or a minor engages in sexting with a person under the age of 18, Florida law enforcement authorities will become involved in a serious and forceful manner. Criminal charges can easily escalate if certain conduct is depicted in electronic messages.
Possible Criminal Charges For Adult Sexting with a Minor
Florida Statute chapter 847 addresses matters relating to obscenity, including the distribution or transmission of material deemed harmful to minors, either in print or by use of computerized devices. Below is a list of just a few ways someone could violate Florida’s law against texting or transmitting sexual content to a person under 18 years old:
- Transmission of obscene material to a minor (F.S. 847.0133): 3rd Degree Felony: up to 5 years prison and a $5,000 fine for each transmission.
- Transmitting electronically to a minor material harmful to a minor (F.S. 847.0138, 847.011(c)) 3rd Degree Felony: up to 5 years prison and $5,000 fine for each transmission.
- Electronic distribution of material harmful to minors on school grounds (F.S. 847.012):3rd Degree Felony: up to 5 years prison and $5,000 fine for each transmission.
- Using a computer to entice or lure a minor into an illegal sex act (F.S. 847.0135):3rd Degree Felony: up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each transmission.
- A person over age 18 transmitting an image of lewd or lascivious conduct or exhibition to a person under 16 years of age (F.S. 847.084(b): 2nd Degree Felony: up to 15 years in prison and $10,000 fine for each act.
- A person under age the age of 18 transmitting an image of lewd or lascivious conduct or exhibition to a person under 16 years of age (F.S. 847.084(c): 3rd Degree Felony: up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 fine for each act.
- Transmission of child pornography by an electronic device (F.S. 847.0137): 3rd Degree Felony: up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 fine for each act. (Punishable under federal statute by between 5 years and 20 years in prison)
- Unlawful use of a two-way communications device (F.S. 934.215): 3rd Degree Felony: up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 fine for each act.
What’s Harmful to a Minor?
People may differ in how they define obscenity or what they think may be harmful to minors. But Florida law generally defines “material harmful to minors” as depictions, characterizations, or exhibitions of nudity, sexual conduct, or sexual excitement if it excessively appeals to sexual or “shameful” interests, offends prevailing community standards for what’s suitable for minors, and is lacking serious cultural value.
Law enforcement and prosecuting authorities are not seeking “close calls” or material of questionable taste. They are looking for and forcefully prosecuting adults and minors who transmit or receive images depicting genitalia, nudity, sexual acts (even if feigned), masturbation, erotic fondling of oneself, or any depiction or lewd discussion of private parts in a state of sexual arousal. Sharing these kinds of still or video images texted or otherwise transmitted will invite criminal prosecution in Florida courts.
Texting from Minor to Minor
When a person under age 18 engages in sexting with another minor, Florida law tempers the penalty so the consequences of their teenage misconduct do not derail their future entirely. A minor who commits a sexting offense by transmitting a prohibited sexually charged image or message to another minor will be cited and summoned to a juvenile court appearance, will be fined $80, and will be ordered to perform 8 hours of community service. A second offense becomes a 1st-degree criminal misdemeanor punishable with up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A third or subsequent offense graduates the punishment up to a 3rd-degree felony and up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Adult Texting Sexual Content to a Minor
Adults texting sexual content to a minor find little refuge under Florida law. A mistake about the text recipient’s age is no defense, even if the defendant can prove the minor lied about being older. It’s also no defense that the person who was sexted was not actually a minor but was an undercover government agent posing as a minor.
Sex Offender Designation and Registration
As if living with a permanently accessible public record of a criminal conviction on a sex-related offense were not socially devastating enough, conviction of crime described in this blog post requires that the offender registers as a sex offender with local authorities wherever they live. The convicted sex offender’s name and residence are listed on a public website along with their offense. Failing to maintain regular reports and contact with police constitute a new felony.
Sex offender registration lasts for life.
Sexting and Computer Sex Offense Defenses
It’s imperative that anyone suspected of or charged with texting or transmitting any material of a sexual nature to a minor contact an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. There is no time to waste, as the accused person’s reputation begins to be damaged with only the accusation.
Attorneys Ben Stechschulte and Amy Nell are experts at aggressively defending Tampa area residents against criminal charges of sexting or otherwise using computers to store, receive, or transmit illegal images.
Computer crimes of this nature must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and that means the government must prove the defendant knowingly and intentionally sent the image to a person they knew or should have known was under 18 years of age.
Call Stechschulte Nell today for a case review; 813-280-1244.