The Possible Legal Ramifications of Teen Sexting: What You Should Know to Protect Your Teen Teenagers today engage with the digital world at an unprecedented level. It has become overwhelmingly common for adolescents to carry or access cell phones. An estimated 78% of teens own cell phones and one-third send more than 3,000 text messages a month. According to a 2009 study performed by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one in five teens admitted to “sexting.” Sexting is the act of taking, sending, or receiving nude images via cell phone, blog, or other form of electronic communication. Minors who send nude images of themselves to other minors may be subject to delinquency proceedings. Teens and young adults who are at least 18 years of age may face more severe penalties than their minor counterparts. These crimes carry severe long-term ramifications for teens if convicted, including but not limited to, terms of incarceration and/or sex offender registration. Current Ohio law provides little guidance on how the government should handle such offenses. As a result, prosecutors have great discretion in deciding how to charge minors who engage in sexting, including the decision of whether to prosecute at all. Prosecutors may elect to pursue felony charges, some of which carry mandatory sex offender registration requirements. There are a handful of distinct felonies that a prosecutor could charge in response to teen sexting. For example, a prosecutor might charge under Ohio Revised Code 2907.322, “Pandering Sexually Oriented Matter Involving a Minor,” a felony of the fourth degree, or Ohio Revised Code 2907.323, “Illegal Use of Minor in Nudity Oriented Material or Performance.” The degree of the latter charge depends on whether the person sends material (second degree), consents to photographing (fourth degree), or possesses or views the material (fifth degree). Prosecutors may also choose to prosecute under Ohio Revised Code 2907.321, “Pandering obscenity involving a minor,” which may result in a second- or fourth-degree felony depending on the nature and content of the images. In addition to Ohio’s registration requirements, the Federal Adam Walsh Act may require teens who send, receive, or share such photos register as sex offenders. The Act requires teens to register with law enforcement for decades, or even their entire life in some circumstances, after completion of their sentence. If the conviction falls under the Second or Third Tier of sex offender registration crimes, then the teens will be subjected to mandatory community notification which is accessible on the Internet. In some cases, defense attorneys may be able to convince prosecutors to reduce such charges to misdemeanors that do not require registration or dismiss the charges or impose community service. Teen sexting cases where the accused is a minor are handled by juvenile court judges, who exercise greater discretion in sentencing. Thus, it is critical that youths receive competent representation to get the best outcome possible if and when these circumstances arise. These laws are meant to protect children from adults who seek to take advantage of them. However, teenagers who engage in consensual sexual exploration with other teens may be subject to these laws, even for sending their own image. As a result, victims of these crimes may be subject to criminal prosecution as well. It’s important to have a conversation with your teen if he or she carries a cell phone or has internet access. Be sure to warn them of the potential legal ramifications of taking, sending, or receiving nude images of themselves or others. Consult with legal counsel should your teen be confronted by law enforcement so your child can make an informed decision regarding their future.
 Sexting Among Teenagers in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis for Identifying Motivating Factors, Potential Targets, and the Role of a Capable Guardian, Kathy Martinez-Prather and Donna M. Vandiver, International Journal of Cyber Criminology, Vol. 8, Issue 1, Jan.-June 2014.
Parks and Meade Partner, Attorney Darren Meade, won a major case before the Ohio Supreme Court this past week. With a combination of extensive legal research, persuasive writing, and effective oral argument, Meade swung a 4-3 decision in his client’s favor.
The ruling will have a major impact not only on a Parks and Meade’s client, but on felony sentencing throughout Ohio. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed with Meade that the Ohio felony sentencing laws, as written, do not permit a felony prison term suspended for probation to be run consecutive (“back to back”) with a prison sentence actually imposed.
For Mr. Meade’s client, that means a six month sentence in a lock-down facility has been vacated. Perhaps even more importantly, the client’s five (5) year suspended prison sentence (to be served on probation) has been thrown out!
In response to the ruling, Meade stated: “I always knew the odds were against us in this case, but likewise always believed we had a shot so long as we presented our argument effectively, and refused to hold back on the hard work necessary to win.” Meade further lauded Parks and Meade Law Clerk Andrea “Andi” Lawson for her absolutely invaluable research and writing assistance in this case. Andi will be joining Parks and Meade as its first associate attorney once she passes the bar exam.
The law firm of Parks and Meade would like to congratulate their Law Clerk, Andrea Lawson, who passed the Ohio Bar Examination on Oct. 25. Lawson will be sworn in on Nov. 12 by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Lawson, who lives in Clintonville, is looking forward to a career in criminal defense, family law and child advocacy. Lawson's experience as clerk at the Franklin County Public Defender's Office sparked her interest in providing critical legal services to indigent individuals.
“Everyone deserves representation,” she said, expanding further on the first-responder type of atmosphere with Criminal Defense and Family Law. “I love it. I discovered in law school that I love the courtroom. I love the energy of it.”
Lawson is a graduate of Capital University Law School, where she received many honors, including Dean's List, the Ackerman-Gemette Endowed Scholarship and the Class of 2009 Law Scholarship.
At Capital, she was president of the Criminal Law Association and Secretary of the ACLU Capital Law Chapter. Additionally, she was secretary of the Women’s Law Association and served as an Advocate on the Child Welfare and Adoption Law Moot Court Team.
A graduate of The Ohio State University, Lawson majored in Women’s studies and German, where she graduated Cum Laude and was on the Dean’s List.
She had initially wanted to be a teacher; however, an early job at a law firm sparked her interest. Lawson said she was drawn to the analytical thinking required to practice law. She also loves policy and how the legal system shapes people and their lives.
“It’s definitely the right path for me,” she said.
When she isn’t working, Lawson likes to travel, hike, spend time outdoors, explore the local restaurant scene and do yoga. Lawson cares deeply about social justice and giving a voice and vigorous legal representation to everyone in the system.
“I want to give a sense of humanity to everyone, every inmate,” she said.
Congrats, Andi! You are going to make an amazing attorney -everyone at Parks and Meade