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Pennsylvania Sexting Laws

January 24, 2017

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In many ways, smart phones have significantly simplified our lives. For instance, it has become standard practice to check email, pay bills, listen to music, and watch movies all on one device. With this improved technology has come increased demand and now it is not uncommon to see children with cell phones in hand. Unfortunately, the ability to connect with thousands of people via smart phones has also had negative repercussions, especially for young teenagers. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as many as 30 percent of teens have sent or received photos of a sexual nature. While most of these photos are originally shared between those who are dating, many are eventually leaked to a wider audience. In response to concerns over whether this type of content qualified as child pornography, the Pennsylvania legislature has made it a punishable offense for minors to participate in sexting.

Teen Sexting Laws

In Pennsylvania, minors are considered to have committed a summary offense when they:

  • Knowingly share, distribute, or publish electronic communications containing a sexually explicit image of themselves; or
  • Knowingly possess or view a sexually explicit photo of a minor over the age of 12 years old.

However, distributing or transmitting a sexually explicit photo of another minor is charged as a third degree misdemeanor. The charge may be upgraded to a second degree misdemeanor if a minor intended to harass or intimidate another minor by:

  • Taking a photo of a minor who is either partially or fully nude without that person’s consent; or
  • Distributing this type of image without the minor’s consent.

In teen sexting cases, judges are advised to refer offenders to diversionary programs, upon the completion of which, a person’s record could be expunged. Although these laws specifically address teen sexting, some teenagers are still prosecuted under the state’s child pornography laws, which prohibit photographing or viewing depictions of sexual acts involving minors under the age of 18 years old. Disseminating such images to minors is also punishable under Pennsylvania’s child pornography laws.

Generally, sending and receiving sexually explicit images between consenting adults is not prohibited.

Contact van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim to Speak With an Experienced Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Although there are laws that specifically address teen sexting, many teenagers are prosecuted under the much stricter child pornography laws as a result of overzealous prosecution, inadequate defense, or the admission of unlawfully seized evidence. Furthermore, if a judge refuses to provide access to diversionary or educational programs, youthful offenders may be unable to have their records expunged, which can have far-reaching consequences that can make it difficult to obtain housing or find a job. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we are dedicated to addressing all of our clients questions and concerns and so are available by email, phone, and live chat. If you are a resident of Philadelphia and you or your child were recently arrested for sexting or a child pornography-related crime, please contact our dedicated legal team by calling (215) 486-0123 to schedule a consultation.



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