Smartphones have become a basic necessity instead of a luxury for many Florida teens. This easy access to the online world and private communication has led to an increase in "sexting," which is the popular term for texting nude or sexually explicit pictures.
However, many teens - and their parents - aren't aware that this behavior can have serious legal consequences. Until recently, individuals that sent or received "sexts" that contained the image of a child (a minor under 18) could be charged with child pornography. However, a recent Florida law added a provision that takes steps toward protecting minors who don't understand the implications of their actions from life-long ramifications.
Who does the law apply to?
Under the law, minors who create, send or possess nude images of another minor are charged with a noncriminal violation. This means there will be nothing on their criminal record, and there will be no time in a detention center for first-time offenses.
However, it's important to note that this applies solely to nude images. If the material depicts a minor involved in a sex act, the person with the image can still be charged with creating, possessing or distributing child pornography. The same is true for a high school student who is at least 18 years of age - this law only applies to minors.
The law also has specific provisions for minors who are sent inappropriate images. If the teen did not solicit or distribute the images and made "reasonable steps" to notify a parent, school official or law enforcement about the images, there will be no charges.
What is the punishment?
For a first offense, the person faces a noncriminal violation, eight hours of community service and a $60 fine. The person may also have to attend classes related to the offense. For the purposes of sentencing, any subsequent images within 24 hours are considered part of the first offense.
For a second offense, the minor can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. A third offense can be charged as a third-degree felony. It's important to note that the misdemeanor and felony charges can result in more severe penalties, up to and including time spent in a juvenile detention center.