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Sexting/Cyberbullying Penalties May Be Decreased

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2011 PA H.B. 815 (NS) would reduce penalties for teens caught "sexting" sexually explicit material to others

By Attorney Elisabeth K.H. Pasqualini, Sex Crimes Defense Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

House Bill 815 would reduce the penalties for teens caught transmitting sexually explicit photos of themselves or their peers in a practice known as "sexting."  Currently, the crimes code provides that the crime is a felony under child pornography laws.  However, under HB 815, which is presently on the Governor's desk for signature, a teen who sends photos of themselves or views photos of another, commits a summary offense.  A summary offense is punishable by a maxiumum of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.  A felony three is punishable by up to seven years in jail and a $15,000 fine. 

A teen who knowingly transmits such photos of another minor commits a misdemeanor of the third degree (1 year/$2500 fine).  A teen who takes a photo of another nude minor, consent of the photographee is irrelevant, and transmits or distributes that photo with the intent of coercing, intimidating, harassing or causing emotional distress could be charged with a second degree misdemeanor (2 years/$5000). 

The legislation would allow the Commonwealth to confiscate any communication device used in the trasmission or photographing.  It also would allow judges to assign violators to a diversionary program, which may include educational programs and counseling.  Successful completion would allow their record to be expunged.

HB 815 would only allow for penalty decreases among juveniles.  Any adult caught disseminating photos of minors, could be prosecuted for a violation of child pornography laws.

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