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Tennessee’s sexting laws are poised for legislative overhaul

When many parents stop and reflect on their teenage years, they may simply chuckle to themselves and shake their head. More than anything, this simple action serves as a sort of tacit recognition that they engaged in antics when they were younger that were puerile at best and illegal at worst.

While things certainly have not changed in terms of high school students being more prone to engaging in certain risky or even unlawful behavior — speeding, underage consumption, etc. — it’s also important to understand that this risky or unlawful behavior has evolved and expanded. Indeed, one needn’t look any further than the smartphones found in the pockets and purses of most teens for proof.

According to statistics, as many as 40 percent of U.S. teens have either received or sent some manner of sexually suggestive photo or video to another teen, a phenomenon known as “sexting.”

While it’s understandable why a parent would perhaps be upset with their teen for engaging in this behavior from a moral perspective, a quick glance at Tennessee criminal statutes would likely make them upset from a legal perspective as well.

That’s because Tennessee is one of at least 30 states that does not currently have a law expressly dealing with sexting on the books, meaning the act is technically classified under the state’s child pornography laws.

Consequently, any teen who records and sends sexually explicit pictures or videos to another teen, or who has such pictures or videos of another teen stored on their smartphone may be charged with a felony and placed on the juvenile sex offender registry until they reach the age of 25.

Interestingly enough, state lawmakers are now starting to realize that this is an unduly harsh punishment for teens who are perhaps guilty of little more than exercising extremely poor judgment.

To that end, a bill is currently being drafted in Nashville that would essentially create a new sexting law, making it a misdemeanor for two juveniles to exchange sexually explicit pictures or videos, and eliminating the mandatory sex offender registration.

It will be interesting to see whether the law, which experts are predicting will be introduced this session, has the necessary support in both the General Assembly and Governor Haslam’s office.

In the meantime, if your child has been charged with any manner of criminal offense, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can get to work protecting their freedom and their future as soon as possible.

Knoxville Family Law Attorney