An overview of sexually explicit image transmission by minors charges

Taking, sending, viewing or possessing nude photos of themselves or other minors over the age of 12 may lead to a summary offense or misdemeanor charges.

As teens transition into young adults, they often begin exploring their bodies and sexuality. In today's digital age, this may include sharing nude photos of themselves with others. Even if they willingly take and share such pictures, however, they could be charged with transmission of sexually explicit images by a minor. Sometimes referred to as teen sexting, the potential consequences associated with this offense may have lasting effects.

When is sending a picture a crime?

For some, it may seem like teens should be able to make their own choices regarding what they are doing with their bodies, provided they are not harming themselves or others. However, Pennsylvania law prohibits minors from electronically sending or publishing nude photos of themselves. Young people who receive such images may also face legal issues. Teens may be charged with transmission of sexually explicit images by a minor if they view or possess nude photos of another minor who is over 12-years-old.

Depending on the circumstances, and as long as the photos do not depict sex acts, transmission of sexually explicit images by a minor may be charged as a summary offense, a third degree misdemeanor or a second degree misdemeanor. Minors who knowingly disseminate images of themselves and minors who view or have pictures of another minor over the age of 12 in their possession may be charged with a summary offense. In cases when a teen knowingly sends nude photos of another child over 12-years-old, he or she may be charged with a third degree misdemeanor. Taking, sending or publishing nude photos of another minor for the purpose of causing him or her emotional distress is considered a second degree misdemeanor under Pennsylvania state law.

What are the potential legal penalties?

The consequences teens may face if they are convicted of transmitting sexually explicit images varies based on the level of offense they are charged with. Pennsylvania state law dictates that they may be sentenced to a maximum of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300 for a summary offense. Those charged with a third degree misdemeanor may be sentenced to no more than one year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,000. The penalties are increased to a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 for second degree misdemeanor charges for this offense.

Looking out for the future

One snapped photo or sent message may seem innocent enough at the time, but it can have life-changing implications for teens in Pennsylvania. The penalties they may face if they are convicted could affect their personal, educational and professional opportunities well after they have served their time and paid their fines. Therefore, it may benefit teens who are facing sexting charges to seek legal guidance. An attorney may help them build a solid defense, as well as explain their options.