Sexting reform has been a hot topic for years, but Ohio legislators are finally moving to take felony charges and mandatory sex offender registration off the table for teens.
Ohio House Bill 355, which was unanimously approved by the full state house will give prosecutors the option for less severe penalties for teens who consensually exchange explicit photos, according to the Sandusky Register.
According to the details of the bill, anyone under 19 when caught sending or receiving nude photos, or of someone less than 4 years younger than the offender would have other, lesser possible criminal penalties. The new offense of “possession of sexually explicit digital material” would only be a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of 8 hours or community service. A judge would have the option for a greater punishment if she deems it necessary.
Let’s hope this legislation is passed by the Ohio Senate and signed into law.
There is still opposition to this bill by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
It is fine that prosecutors want to use discretion, but the ability to “overcharge” a crime is a level of discretion that can easily be abused. That’s like saying prosecutors should be able to charge someone with felony assault if they get in a loud argument.
A few years back, teens in Riverside, OH were charged with felony sex offenses for transmitting images of other nude teens via cell phone, or “sexting”. In this case, the charges were avoided in this case by completing a juvenile diversion program.
But should Ohio prosecutor have the ability to threaten teens with ruinous felony sex offenses and sex offender status for these actions?
That’s a question Ohio legislators have been asking for years, and an answer appears to be finally forthcoming. Local prosecutors insist that they use discretion in these cases, and that the laws are sufficient as written. But the threat of life-changing felonies for what most of us believe is ill-advised, but not dangerous criminal behavior qualifying as felony sex offenses.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20% of teens admit to having sent nude or semi-nude images of themselves. Does that mean 20% of our teens deserve to be threatened with felony child pornography charges?
Reform of sexting laws is a hot topic nationwide, so it’s good to see that Ohio legislators appear to be taking seriously the power that the law and prosecutors have over children who make dumb mistakes.