Under house bill 71, Utah’s sexting law, it is unlawful to distribute harmful material to a minor or pornography. Depending on the person’s age, sending or receiving the sexts sexting can be a misdemeanor or felony.
- Sexting is a class A misdemeanor if the actor is below 16 and a class B misdemeanor if the victim is above 16.
- Utah sexting laws 76-10-1204 do not prevent prosecutors from pursuing other charges.
- Teens adjudicated in the juvenile system may not have to register as sex offenders.
- Repeat offenders qualify for enhanced punishment.
- Repeat teen offenders may face felony child pornography charges.
Utah Sexting Laws Summary
Section 76-10-1204, “distributing pornographic material,” states that an individual is guilty of violating the statute if the person sends, prepares, distributes, or exhibits pornographic material. If the person who violates the statute is above 18 years of age, the crime is a third-degree felony. Whereas, if a teen above 16 creates, shares, or disseminates “harmful material” or pornography, the individual is guilty of a class A misdemeanor. Additionally, teens under sixteen may face class B misdemeanor charges for sexting.
Note that Utah’s sexting law does not prevent prosecutors from pursuing Exploitation of a Minor, Solicitation of a Minor, Child Pornography, Harassment, and Revenge Porn charges.
What happens if a teen sends you sexually explicit images from Utah?
Did you solicit the image or activity? If not, taking reasonable steps to destroy the images or reporting the activity to the teen’s school, caregivers, or law enforcement are potential defenses. However, if you solicited, asked for, or in any way encouraged a child to create and disseminate sexually explicit images of herself. House bill 71 states that you are guilty of a third-degree felony.
What if an adult sends nudes to a minor?
Under Utah code 76-10-1206, “dealing in material harmful to minor,” it is unlawful to distribute, or offer to distribute, exhibit, or display any material that is harmful to minors. “Harmful to minors” refers to any content or media that -when taken as a whole -lacks any educational, scientific, or medical value and appeals to the prurient interest in sex. That means sending nude selfies and pornography to a minor -constitutes disseminating harmful material to a minor.
76-10-1206: What to remember:
- If the accused is above 18, each separate offense is a third-degree felony punishable by mandatory incarceration for fourteen days, plus a fine not less than $1000. On top of that, there is a $10 fine for each article exhibited.
- If the accused is below 18 and the victim above 16 but younger than 18, each separate offense is a class A misdemeanor.
- Each separate offense committed by anyone below 16 is a class B misdemeanor.
Note that section 3 (a) of the statute states that quote “if a defendant 18 years old or older has been previously convicted or adjudicated by the juvenile court under this section, each separate subsequent offense is a second-degree felony.”
A second-degree felony in Utah is punishable by a mandatory minimum fine of not less than $5000 and $10 for each exhibited article and a prison sentence of not less than one year.
If the adjudicated teen is below 18, section B states that each subsequent offense constitutes a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony in Utah is punishable by a fine of up to $10000 and incarceration for up to 15 years.
When does sexting become child pornography in Utah?
Under 76-5b-201, “sexual exploitation of a minor,” it is unlawful to knowingly or intentionally produce, possess, or possess with intent to disseminate child pornography. State law defines child pornography as any media, digital or physical that:
(1) Involves a minor in its production.
(2) Depicts a child engaged in sexual conduct.
(3) Altered media or media manipulated to depict a minor engaged in sexual conduct.
Consequently, the statute applies to live sexual performances by a child, photographs, photoshop, deep fakes, videos or computer-generated images, and video games.
Sexual conduct refers to acts including intercourse, lascivious exhibition of the genitals, masturbation, bestiality, sodomy, and all acts intended for sexual gratification or arousal.
What that means is nude selfies and videos constitute child pornography in Utah. Remember, Utah sexting laws do not shield teens accused of felonies from prosecution under other statutes. Furthermore, a single set of facts may lead to multiple convictions because each article or offense constitutes a separate offense.
76-5b -201: What to remember:
- The statute provides one affirmative defense. The person depicted in the photo or video was not underage at the time.
- Mistake-of -age or not knowing the age of the minor is not a defense.
- Each photo or video constitutes a separate offense.
- Prosecutors do not have to prove the actual identity of an identifiable minor.
- Law enforcement officers may pose as minors during investigations.
Teen or adult court?
Note that no statute specifies the youngest age at which the court may declare a minor delinquent in Utah.
If the accused is below 18, the individual will face trial in the juvenile system. The punishment options include probation, state supervision, community placement, and secure facility placement for chronic offenders.
The court may also order community service, restitution, or a fine.
Note that anyone convicted of Lewdness Involving Minor, Sexual Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult/minor, soliciting, or attempting to solicit sexual conduct from a child must register as a sex offender upon conviction.
Utah sexting laws and enticing a minor
Under 76-4-401, an individual is guilty of enticing a minor if the person intentionally uses an electronic device, text message, or the internet to seduce, lure, solicit, entice, or in any way encourage a minor to engage in sexual activity.
Under the statute, initiating contact with a teen, and attempting to solicit, seduce, lure, or entice the minor are also violations. Furthermore, the statute allows law enforcement officers to pose as minors during investigations, meaning entrapment is not a defense.
What to remember:
- Enticing a minor is a first-degree felony if the accused has prior convictions.
- Repeat offenders do not qualify for probation, suspended sentence, judgment to a lower category felony, or hospitalization.
Utah sexting law and revenge porn
76-5b-203 “distribution of an intimate image” is Utah’s revenge porn law. Under the statute, it is unlawful to possess or disseminate explicit images without the consent of the depicted individual. It is also unlawful to manipulate images to create the appearance of an actual sex act.
Section 2 of the statute reads, quote:
“An actor commits the offense of distribution of an intimate image/ picture if the actor knowingly or intentionally distributes to a third party an intimate image of an individual who is 18 years or older and knows or should know that the distribution would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress or harm.”
The law works under the assumptions:
(1) the person depicted did not consent to the distribution.
(2) the image was created or taken under circumstances in which the victim had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Dissemination of intimate images without consent is a class A misdemeanor if the victim is above 18. If the victim is below 18, prosecutors may pursue possession and distribution of child pornography.
Note: the victim may take civil action to recover monetary damages if the act results in emotional or financial harm or if the accused used the content for commercial benefit.
Utah sexting laws and electronic communication harassment
In Utah, unsolicited sexts or images constitute harassment. In addition, under 76-9-201 “electronic communication harassment,” it is unlawful to use a telephone or other communication device to insult, taunt, or challenge another in a manner that is likely to provoke a disorderly response or violence.
Harassment may also lead to stalking charges. Remember, in Utah, an individual is guilty of stalking if the person intentionally engages in targeted conduct aimed at causing the victim to suffer emotional distress or to fear for their safety.
Victims of harassment, unsolicited sexts, or stalking may take civil action. We recommend consulting with an attorney immediately and reporting the matter to law enforcement if the activity is causing emotional distress or if you fear for your safety.
- 76-10-1204 “distributing pornographic material”
- 76-10-1206 “dealing in material harmful to minor“
- 76-4-401 “enticing a minor”
- 76-5b-203 “distribution of an intimate image”
Other Utah Laws