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Tennessee lawmakers advance legislation overhauling sexting laws

If you were to ask the average middle school or high school student to show you what was in their pockets, chances are very good that in addition to such staples as gum, tissues and lip balm, the majority would also pull out a smartphone.

While the reality that most minors now own smartphones isn't really that surprising when you consider the overall utility of the devices, some of the ways in which minors are using their phone are. Indeed, as we discussed in a prior post, statistics show as many as 40 percent of U.S. teens have either received or sent sexually suggestive photos or videos, a phenomenon known as "sexting."

While these actions are technically illegal, there is actually no express law covering sexting, meaning prosecutors in Tennessee are presented with the choice of letting the issue go or pursuing charges under the state's child pornography laws.

If they opt for the latter option, this means minors who engage in sexting could theoretically be charged with exploitation of a minor -- despite the conduct being of a consensual nature -- a felony that can result in placement on the juvenile sex offender registry.

Recognizing that the punishment might not necessarily fit the crime for minors perhaps guilty of little more than exercising poor judgment, state lawmakers have passed a bill designed to lessen the punishment for those who engage in sexting.

Sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), the bill enables prosecutors looking to press forward in these situations to pursue "unruly offense" charges in juvenile court, effectively putting consensual sexting in the same category as things like curfew violations and truancy.

While the bill, which passed the Senate by a margin of 26-2 last week, stops short of expressly declaring that those minors who receive unwanted photos or videos could not be charged, it does state that charges won't be brought against minors who inform a parent/authority figure, or delete them.

It's encouraging to have seen common sense having prevailed in this matter …    

Consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if your child has been charged with any manner of criminal offense, as their freedom and their future may be on the line.  

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