September 28, 2023
If you are the parent of teenagers, you’ve probably heard all kinds of things about the dangers of sexting. If you are a young single adult, you’ve probably heard horror stories from friends or peers about sexts gone wrong.
Even if nude images are originally shared between consenting teenagers or adults, a bad breakup could lead to the image being sent out into the world in an instant. Widespread sexts have led to traumatic cases of bullying and big scandals not only in Colorado, but throughout the country.
Many states have adopted laws that charge offenders for “sexting,” and the issue has been on the minds of our state legislators for a few years. Now, Colorado may be on the brink of adopting sexting laws that will bring education to schools and punishment to offenders – both those who receive sexts and people who send them in inappropriate manners.
What exactly does that mean? How would the law work?
Understanding HB1058 and Its Possible Impact
In April, members of the Colorado House unanimously passed HB1058, a measure that would add charges for possessing nude photos of minors. The charges would include:
- Felony Child Exploitation: Any adult who possesses nude photos of a minor on their phone will face these charges. Penalties include up to 12 years behind bars and a lifetime of registering as a Colorado sex offender. Additional charges will be added if the adult distributes the photos without the minor’s consent.
- Misdemeanor Unlawful Sexual Conduct: If a minor possesses nude photos of another minor and distributes them without the depicted minor’s consent, they will face misdemeanor charges. Penalties could include up to two years in prison and/or mandatory education about sexting.
The bill also includes the creation of a sexting curriculum that schools could access if they want to talk to students about the issue. However, the bill will not require schools to teach this curriculum.
Changes May Be Made In the Senate
HB1058 was first introduced in early 2016, after 100 high school students in Cañon City were caught holding nude images of other students. At the time, there were no sexting laws in place.
Because of this, having the photos technically could have led to the students facing child pornography charges. Students who were 18 would have faced up to 12 years in prison and over $750,000 in fines, as well as a spot on the sex offender registry.
At the time of the scandal, law enforcement focused on finding out if any of the offenders were adults, or if any of the teenagers had distributed the photos without consent. In the end, penalties were carried out, but not ones as severe as child pornography charges and years behind bars.
In fact, no criminal charges were pressed. However, letters were sent out to parents, dozens of students were suspended, and the school’s football team wasn’t allowed to play following the scandal.
What This Means for Possible Future Charges
Penalizing people who exchange sexts is a tricky issue. Colorado is still debating the exact charges that will be included in the measure. In fact, it is likely that we will see a slightly different bill heading to the governor’s office, because there was already a lot of debate about the bill when it was in the House.
For example, it is entirely possible that two teenagers might send explicit photos to each other with consent and not distribute the photos or use them for harmful purposes. How can consenting teens be protected, while still allowing justice to be carried out against adults or teens who collect or distribute the images unlawfully? How can we close loopholes that prevent criminals from getting away?
There are fine lines that could be crossed, especially because we don’t know what potential advances in technology could affect the bill later on. Lawmakers are hesitant to add provisions where this act could result in a teen having to register as a sex offender for the rest of their life.
The debate over sexting laws shows how new technology can severely affect a person’s criminal record. If Colorado had decided to carry out child pornography charges in Cañon City, the lives of the children involved would have drastically changed. Almost two years after the scandal, lawmakers are only now starting to resolve the issue.
If you or your child is currently charged with a sex crime related to sexting, remember that the laws regarding child pornography are still in place. Get in touch with a Colorado sex crimes lawyer immediately to learn more about your options, potential penalties, and defense strategies you can use in the courtroom.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.