When laws are hastily written, vague or overly broad, they can do more harm than good. I have previously written about the criminal sexual offense of Dealing in Depictions of a Minor Engaged in Sexually Explicit Conduct. That crime is currently defined as any person that “develops, duplicates, publishes, prints, disseminates, exchanges, finances, attempts to finance, or sells a visual or printed matter that depicts a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct”. The law was clearly directed at adults in possession of child pornography. Rather than protecting the community from dangerous predators, it swept up teens who had sexted images of themselves or friends.
Teens have been prosecuted under the current law. See my August 21, 2018 article Sexting Teen Convicted of Child Pornography. The law needs clarification to address this issue, and it appears the Washington State Legislature agrees. Under consideration is a new set of laws which would:
- Exempt minors from certain crimes relating to depictions of other minors age 13 and older.
- Creates a new offense of Minor Dealing in Depictions of Another Minor age 13 or Older Engaged in Sexual Conduct. The crime would be a simple or gross misdemeanor and not a sex offense.
- Requires that a prosecutor divert an individual’s first offense. Diversion will allow the juvenile to avoid criminal history of an adjudication.
These are important changes to the law that will help teens not fall into a system that can leave their future damaged and scarred. It can be devastating for a juvenile to be labeled a sex offender. That label can follow them from school to school, job to job. It can lead to discrimination and lost opportunities, or just a psychological weight that limits a young person’s potential. Not something that one would want to hang on a teen who was Snapchatting photos to a boyfriend/girlfriend.
This is just one example of laws that can be misused when hastily written. It is particularly important to have well defined statutes when dealing with sex crimes. When it comes to crimes of that nature, something as simple as the age of the defendant and/or the victim can make an enormous difference in the severity of the action and its punishment. A child of ten or eleven who sexts a naked picture to a classmate cannot be held to the same standard as an adult, or even a 15 year old. This is common sense. Let’s hope that Washington can learn from these errors and write laws that protect the community and don’t ruin lives.
If you have a criminal matter and would like to consult with a lawyer, contact Jan Olson at Ellis, Li & McKinstry, PLLC. You can reach Jan by calling (206) 682-0565 or by e-mail at [email protected].