Last month, we wrote about a North Carolina case in which a 17-year-old was hit with criminal charges for sending and keeping sexually explicit images to and from his girlfriend. The young man ended up being prosecuted for violating child pornography laws. At the time, both of them were 16 years old—old enough to be tried as an adult for a felony.
Both the young man and his girlfriend were able to reach plea agreements with prosecutors in their cases. He will be under the watchful eye or probation for one year, while she took a similar deal back in July. If both of them abide by the terms of their probation—which includes warrantless searches, for the young man—they will be able to have their records cleared. The outcome of these cases could have been worse, of course, but one still has to question the way these cases were handled.
The criminal cases represent the somewhat precarious situation with respect to sexting between minors. While most states do have sexting laws but do not actually prosecute minors who share images with one another out of mutual consent, North Carolina is among a group of states which do prosecute in such situations, as the above cases demonstrate. One of the ironies of the case is that, while it was a crime for the teen couple to send one another sexually explicit photos, it would not have been a crime for the two to actually have sex, since the age of consent here in North Carolina is 16.
Obviously, young people who face charges involving sex offenses need to work with an experienced attorney to ensure their rights are protected. This includes not only ensuring that prosecutors are held to their full burden of proving the charges in question, but also taking advantage of any legal protections available in the criminal process.
The Guardian, “Teen prosecuted as adult for having naked images – of himself – on phone,” Joanna Walters, Sept. 20, 2015.