Cell phones have become not only ubiquitous, but their capabilities have outstripped anything their earliest users may have ever dreamed. This includes, of course, the ability to take and transmit high-quality videos and photographs instantly, with relative ease. Regardless, sexting in Colorado comes with its fair share of penalties.
This ability has spawned the phenomenon of “sexting,” which is where people send suggestive or nude photos to others using their cell phones.
Colorado doesn’t recognize sexting between consenting adults as a crime. However, the letter of the law becomes murky when teens choose to engage in sexting in Colorado.
Teens may believe that taking and sending photos of themselves will never land them in any serious trouble, yet many states have enacted laws that address teen sexting specifically. In these states, the consequences for teen sexting are hardly severe. In states that don’t have specific sexting laws yet, such as Colorado, sexting may be covered under older laws. This means the consequences may be steep.
Charges for Teenagers who Sext
The state holds a multitude of very serious charges that may be leveled against a teen who engages in sexting.
Sexting a Child Equals Sexual Exploitation of a Child
Under Colorado law, sexual exploitation of a child occurs when a person knowingly:
- Causes or permits a minor to engage in sexual conduct in order to create a sexual image of that minor;
- Possesses or controls any sexual image of a minor;
- Prepares any sexual image of a minor for publication or distribution through electronic means; or
- Possesses with intent to sell or distribute any sexual image of a minor.
Sexual exploitation of a child can be classified as a Class 3, 4, or 6 felony, depending on the particular facts of each case. The state may charge anyone who fits the criteria listed. Specifically, any person that possesses or creates sexual images of a minor, even if that person is also under the age of 18.
Internet Sexual Exploitation of a Child
Internet sexual exploitation of a child, under Colorado law, occurs when one person entices or convinces another person that they know or believe to be younger than 15 to engage in “cybersex”. Cybersex occurs when two people use text messaging, web cameras, or any other communication device to send sexually explicit messages or photos.
For internet sexual exploitation charges to stand, a person must, while interacting with the minor over the Internet, try to convince the child to:
- Expose or touch their intimate parts;
- Expose or touch another person’s intimate parts; or
- Observe the actor’s intimate parts.
This is a class 4 felony.
Prior to 2017, these were the only charges that could be laid against teens engaging in sexting behavior. In 2017, the Colorado legislature passed HB 17-1302. This allows several lighter or misdemeanor charges for consensual sexting between similarly-aged teens. These newer laws cover:
- Posting sexually explicit photos. Teens under the age of 18 can be charged with posting sexually explicit images if they knowingly distribute, display, or publish images of another juvenile who is at least 14 or less than 4 years younger without permission.
The state may also charge teens with this crime if they distribute, display, or publish images of themselves without reasonable belief that the recipient didn’t request them, causing the recipient emotional distress.
- Possession of sexually explicit photos. A juvenile may be charged with this crime if they knowingly possess an image of another person who is at least 14 or less than 4 years younger than they are without permission.
- Exchanging sexually explicit photos. This occurs when two juveniles exchange images of themselves with a reasonable belief that the other party consented to the exchange.
However, though these new laws exist, teens who engage in sexting behavior with other teens significantly younger than themselves or engage in sexting behavior without the consent of the other teen in question could still face harsher penalties. A Denver juvenile criminal defense attorney like Jeff Weeden can help navigate these complex cases.
Penalties for Sexting in Colorado
Because teen sexting can involve teens both under and above the age of 18, charges can go through either adult courts or juvenile courts. Thus, there is a wide range of penalties that may apply.
Juvenile Penalties for Sexting in Colorado
When charged with penalties related to sexting, penalties for anyone under the age of 18 may not be as severe as adult charges. Judges in juvenile courts have far more discretion when administering consequences, even with more serious offenses.
For example, a juvenile charged with a sexting-related crime could face:
- House arrest
- A fine
- Placement with a county social services department
- Detention in a juvenile facility
The severity of these penalties will differ from case to case. Under HB 17-1302, the following penalties exist for some teens who engage in sexting behavior.
This crime is typically a class 2 misdemeanor but can be upgraded to a class 1 misdemeanor if the teen posting or sharing the image has a criminal record or was believed to have malicious intent.
Possession is classified as a petty offense. However, if the possessor holds 10 or more images depicting 3 or more different people, the state can upgrade the petty offense to a class 2 misdemeanor.
This is the least severe charge. The state usually hands the teen in question a civil infraction. The state may require them to participate in an educational program, such as the Colorado School Safety Resource Center, as well as a fine of $50, which may be waived upon completion of the program.
Adult Penalties for Sexting in Colorado
A teen over the age of 18 charged with a sexting-related crime in Colorado will most likely be charged with sexual exploitation. There are significant potential consequences of being convicted of sexual exploitation, including:
- Up to 12 years in prison
- Fines of up to $750,000
- Mandatory registration with a state sex offender registry
Sexting and Federal Law
Depending on the circumstances, sexting may also be a federal crime. This may occur when someone exchanges sexually explicit images across state lines.
However, for individuals under the age of 18, it is very unlikely they will be charged with a federal crime. The Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act provides that, where possible, individual states charge juveniles rather than the federal government.
Contact Denver Criminal Defense Attorney Jeff Weeden for Sexual Assault Charges
A trusted advocate during his nearly 15 years representing those accused of crimes, Denver sex crimes defense attorney Jeff Weeden has represented clients throughout Colorado including Adams, Arapahoe, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, Gilpin, Jefferson, Larimer, Morgan, Weld counties and beyond.