Federal Sexting Laws

What Federal Crimes can Adults and Teens be Charged for Sending Inappropriate Messages?

Under federal sexting laws, teen and adult offenders may face felony charges that carry sentences ranging from ten years to life in a federal prison. This article explores everything you need to know about state and federal sexting laws in the united states.

“Sexting” refers to the consensual exchange of sexually explicit texts, pictures, or videos. Under federal law, the act is legal if there are no minors involved, and the exchange is consensual. However, sending unsolicited sexts, the exchange of sexually explicit content between an adult and a minor, and minor to minor sexting are all unlawful acts.

High schoolers turning 18 are at most risk of facing sexting charges, child pornography charges, solicitation of a minor, revenge pornography, and related charges because, at 18, a teenager in the eyes of the law is an adult. For example, a 17-year-old girl sending nudes to an 18-year-old boyfriend -constitutes creation, distribution, and possession of child pornography in some jurisdictions. The receiving teen is guilty of solicitation or enticement if he or she asked for the nudes, possession of child pornography for not deleting or informing the sender’s caregivers or law enforcement, and distribution if he displays or sends the image to someone outside the relationship.

If both teens are below 18, the matter will go through the juvenile system. But if the teen is accused of committing a serious felony, multiple violations, and soliciting, sending, or receiving sexually explicit photos across state lines. The issue may escalate into a federal crime.

What happens if a minor violates federal sexting law?

When a minor violates any of the federal crimes above, federal authorities may:

  1. Refer the issue to state juvenile authorities (petty and non-felony offenses).
  2. Initiate federal delinquency proceedings.
  3. If the minor stands accused of a serious felony, federal authorities may petition the court to transfer the case to adult court.

Remember the Federal Delinquency Act applies to individuals charged before attaining the age of 21.

Federal sexting crimes and the juvenile delinquency act

What to remember about the Federal Delinquency Act:

  • The act provides that -whenever possible, juvenile offenders should face prosecution in state court, not federal court.
  • Authorities must advise a minor taken into custody for violating federal law about his or her rights.
  • If juvenile programs of the state are inadequate or unavailable, or if the state is unable or unwilling to proceed against the minor for the unlawful act, federal law permits proceedings in federal court.

Note: transfers to federal court happen if the teen is accused of a serious felony, or has prior felony records.

Federal crimes related to sexting include

  • Coercion and enticement of a minor (18 USC 2422), a crime punishable by ten years to life.
  • Sexual exploitation of children (18 USC 2251), punishable by fifteen to thirty years.
  • Transfer of obscene materials to minors (18 USC 1470), punishable by ten to forty years in prison.
  • Obscene representation of children (18 USC 1466A), punishable by ten to forty years.
  • Materials depicting the sexual exploitation of minors (18 USC 2252), punishable by ten to forty years in prison.

Are there federal laws against sexting?

Yes. As mentioned, sexting often involves solicitation, sexual exploitation, coercion, obscene representation of a minor, and the creation of sexually explicit images. These are all federal offenses, see the explanation below. 

Federal sexting law 1. 18 U.S.C 2251 -sexual exploitation of children/production of child pornography

First Amendment Rights do not protect still or moving images depicting child pornography. Furthermore, Federal Law lists child pornography as illegal contraband.

What is the federal definition of child porn?

Under federal law, any visual depiction (photo, image, film, video, cartoon, etc.) of an individual below 18 engaged in sexually explicit conduct constitutes child pornography or “child sexual abuse images.”

Anyone who produces/distributes, imports, receives, or possesses child sexual abuse images violates federal law and state law.

What are the legal charges for sexting?

Some states have sexting laws, and some do not. In states that do not have sexting laws, sexting is a felony or misdemeanor because the state will use child pornography laws, solicitation laws, or Exploitation of a Child laws to prosecute the accused.

Because of that, teens and adults accused of sending, receiving, or soliciting sexually explicit media from a minor may have to register as sex offenders upon conviction depending on state law and charges brought forth. In states that have sexting laws, sexting is either a petty offense, misdemeanor, or felony.

That said.

State sexting laws do not prevent prosecution for other crimes such as –  Creation and Possession of Child Pornography.

Factors that contribute to federal child pornography charges:

  • The more pictures, videos, or other media the accused has, the more likely the individual will face federal charges.
  • Offenders who have prior child porn or exploitation records are more likely to face federal charges.
  • The younger the alleged victim, the more likely the offender is to be prosecuted in federal court.
  • Use of the internet, or interstate exchange, or transmission of child pornography warrants federal prosecution. Also, if an individual downloads child pornography from a server outside his or her state, the person may face federal prosecution.

Unlike state charges, federal child pornography charges carry serious sentences averaging from ten to forty years. In some cases, the accused may get life behind bars.

What do federal sexting laws and federal child porn laws prohibit and punish?

  • Transporting and dissemination of child pornography.
  • Selling or possessing visual depictions of a child engaged in a sexual act.
  • Possessing books, magazines, periodicals, films, or any media that contains a visual depiction of a child engaged in sexual conduct.
  • Attempting or conspiring to create, transport, or disseminate child pornography.

Attempt and conspiracy carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of twenty-five years. Repeat offenders must serve a statutory minimum penalty of fifteen years, and the maximum sentence is 40 years.

Juvenile and adult punishment for sexting

State law determines the punishment for sexting, for example, in states that have sexting laws, punishment is normally probation, a warning, counseling, incarceration in the juvenile system, or a fine.

Adult offenders must register as sex offenders, pay a fine, or serve jail time as state law dictates.

How do federal authorities track down predators?

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children works with the FBI and internet service providers to find images, videos, and other media depicting child porn on the internet. Victims of abuse or exploitation can get help here or by calling local law enforcement.

What to remember

  • A case may begin in federal court then transfer to state court and vice versa.
  • If convicted in federal court, the accused must register as a sex offender.
  • When convicted in a federal court, the individual will serve time in a federal prison
  • Federal laws govern both state and federal courts.
  • Title 18 of the united states code governs federal courts.
  • Federal courts have the authority to decide which cases to try.

What crimes do federal courts prosecute?

  1. Online solicitation of a minor (electronic or oral) across state lines.
  2. Possession, distribution, and creation of child pornography.
  3. Aggravated sexual abuse or rape.
  4. The exploitation of minors.
  5. Buying and selling of children for exploitation
  6. Transportation of minors or adults across state lines or internationally with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity

Federal sexting law 2. Sexual exploitation of children (18 U.S.C 2251) Prohibits

Under federal statute 18 U.S.C 2251, it is unlawful to:

  • solicit a minor to travel interstate or across state lines with intent to create sexually explicit content or engage in sexual acts. It is also unlawful to Employ, persuade, use, entice, or coerce a minor to engage in sexual conduct orally or via an electronic device.
  • Enticing, inducing, employing, or coercing a minor outside the united states to engage in sexual conduct for creating sexually explicit content is also unlawful.
  • Buying, distributing, producing, or reproducing any content that depicts a minor engage in a sexually explicit act violates the statute.

Attempt and conspiracy

Attempting or conspiring to commit any of the acts listed above is punishable by a minimum sentence of fifteen years in federal prison and up to thirty years. If the accused has prior records, the sentence escalates to up to 50 years in prison.

There is also a statutory minimum penalty of 35 years if the accused has two or more prior convictions.

Federal sexting 3: Coercion and enticement (18 U.S.C 2422) prohibit

Attempting to persuade, entice, or coerce an individual younger than 18 years of by mail, electronic device, or other means to travel interstate to engage in unlawful; sexual activity or prostitution is a federal offense.

 Under federal law, attempting to coerce a minor for the said purpose has a statutory minimum sentence of ten years. The maximum sentence for coercion and enticement is life in federal/state prison.

Federal sexting law 4: Obscene representation of a child 18 USC 1466A

Under federal statute 18 U.S.C 1466A, it is unlawful to intentionally create/produce, distribute, receive, or possess visual depictions of a minor below 18 with the intent to distribute. Obscene representations of a child include:

  • Cartoons
  • Deep fakes
  • Sculptures.
  • paintings
  • photoshop images

or any other visual depiction of a child engaged in a sexual act that lacks literary, political, or scientific value.

Attempt and conspiracy is also a violation of 18 USC 1466A.

Is Nonconsensual sexting a crime?

Nonconsensual sexts may lead to charges including:

  • harassment via an electronic device.
  • Stalking/cyberstalking.
  • Revenge porn

Cyberstalking is both a federal and state crime. The federal punishment for cyberstalking is up to five years in prison and or a fine of up to $250000 (stalking across state lines). Harassment across state lines is a federal felony under 18 U.S.C 2261

Can I go to jail for sexting?

Yes, teens and adults can go to jail for sexting. Below are sexting statutes by state:

Sexting Laws by State

StateSexting statuteSexting law summary
ArizonaARS 8-309. “Unlawful Use of an Electronic Communication device by a minor,”Arizona sexting laws prohibit the exchange of explicit media amongst minors. if found guilty of sending or receiving nudes or sexually explicit content from a minor, you will go into the state’s juvenile or penitentiary system. (keep reading)
Arkansas"computer crimes against minors" AR Code 5-27-609It illegal for minors to possess, create, produce, present, transmit, post, exchange, or disseminate -through any electronic device sexually explicit digital material.  
AlabamaNo sexting law: Alabama code title 13 A. Criminal code 13A-6-111 may apply. 
CaliforniaProposed sexting law AB 2643 Penal code 311 PC -California Child Pornography may apply 
ConnecticutSummarized, CGS 53a-196h (Connecticut Sexting Law),possessing, receiving, or sending sexually explicit media depicting an individual below 16 is a felony. If the sender and recipient are between the age of 13 and 17, they may qualify for a reduced penalty.  
ColoradoHouse bill 17-1302Colorado sexting laws allow teen sexting if there is consent and no exchange of explicit photos or videos.
DelawareNo sexting laws Title 11 -crimes and criminal procedures section 1111possession of child pornography” may apply 
Florida 847.0141 “Sexting: Prohibited ActsFor teens, sexting is a crime that is punishable on a second offense.  
GeorgiaGeorgia code Article 3 16-12-100.2 “Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 2007,"sending and receiving intimate photos or videos is a felony or misdemeanor if the sender and receiver are below 18