On behalf of Jeffrey Engle at Shaffer & Engle Law Offices LLC

A measure recently passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has criminalized the practice commonly known as "sexting" by teens: sending sexually suggestive photos of themselves or others using mobile devices. The bill, sponsored by Representative Seth Grove of York, passed by a wide margin with bipartisan support, and will soon go before the State Senate.

The approved bill creates a second-degree misdemeanor for minors who intentionally or knowingly record, view, possess or transmit images of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor above age 13. If passed by the Senate and signed into law without further changes, first-time offenders would be subject to a summary charge, could not be detained and would not acquire a criminal record. But the measure does provide for seizure and forfeiture of electronic devices used by an offender.

Opponents of the proposed law are concerned that a sexting statute would implicate a huge number of young people, citing a recent survey by The Associated Press and MTV that revealed sexting by a quarter of American teens. Other critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, have expressed concern about First Amendment infringement and suggest that this is an issue that should be left to parental discretion, as well as allowing aggrieved parties to sue for damages. But supporters claim that creating a specific criminal violation for sexting gives prosecutors a less-serious alternative to charging teens under existing child pornography laws.

The proposed Pennsylvania sexting law is limited to sexually suggestive content involving nudity, and reserves harsher punishments for depictions of minors actually engaged in sexual acts or sexually explicit depictions of younger children.

As Sex Crimes Laws Become More Complex, the Role of a Criminal Defense Lawyer Escalates

Under Pennsylvania law, a variety of acts - from indecent exposure, lewd conduct, solicitation and prostitution to sexual assault and child sexual abuse - are subject to a wide range of criminal punishments. But prosecutors must prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt before a person is required to suffer the legal consequences.

By engaging the services of an attorney as soon as you find yourself under suspicion or your child reports an embarrassing incident, you will have the greatest opportunity to protect your rights and assemble a strong defense strategy. The results of a conviction can be extremely serious, including long-term registration as a sex offender. Early intervention on behalf of an accused person can persuade prosecutors to lessen the charges or re-examine witness accounts, victim accusations and other evidence.