What could happen the next time a teen 'sexts'

Posted at 12:08 AM, Mar 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-15 17:10:39-04

Teen 'sexting' may soon result in a less severe crime, making it easier to charge students.

On Tuesday, lawmakers will start to debate a bill that would create a less serious misdemeanor for teens that send nude photos via text.

Right now, under Colorado law, a teen that receives a nude image and then shares that image with another teen can be charged with a serious crime.

"It's a child pornography felony that requires registration as a sex offender. That's an overshoot," said State Representative Yeulin Willett, R-Mesa County.

He has introduced a bill with bipartisan co-sponsors that would create a misdemeanor called "misuse of electronic images."

"We need to lessen that offense because we don't want to have a young person's life ruined," said Willett.

According to the language of the bill, the crime, "misuse of electronic images" could be charged:

"...When a juvenile knowingly distributes, displays, publishes, or possesses a sexually explicit image of himself or herself, or of another juvenile who is within four years of age of the offender. It is an affirmative defense to the crime if the juvenile did not solicit, request, make, transmit, or distribute the image, and he or she took reasonable steps to destroy or delete the image or report receiving the image to law enforcement or a school official."

In November, hundreds of Cañon City Middle School and High School students were under investigation for taking and sharing nude photos.

The Fremont County District Attorney ultimately did not charge any of the students because of the seriousness of a felony.

"The resulting investigation did not identify any of the potential aggravating factors such as the involvement of adults, the posting of images to the internet, coercion or bullying, allegations of unlawful sexual contact and/or retribution or retaliation," LeDoux said in December.

The decision not to charge the students involved in the scandal, "does not condone or excuse the behavior of the individuals involved," LeDoux added.

"If all I have, are the choices between putting an 'F3,' -- third class felony on a kid or not, I'll do nothing, and that doesn't seem to me to be a very satisfactory response," said District Attorney George Brauchler, DA for Arapahoe, Douglas and Elbert Counties.

In 2014, Douglas County Schools dealt with sexting twice.

"We're trying to discourage boys and girls from sending naked images of themselves, and each other, to other juveniles, and after that to God knows where," said Brauchler. We're trying to discourage them from putting into the digital, forever, public stream, images of themselves they cannot ever get back again."

Before Tuesday's debate, Willett told Denver7 that he is already considering an amendment to the bill that would also add an even lesser charge for two teens that willingly share nude photos together.

"In that situation, I reached out to turn that into a juvenile petty offense, which basically (means) an officer can just give them a little contract and they go straight to restorative justice training and education," said Willett.

Denver7 has also learned that there may be an attempt to essentially legalize teen sexting. There might also be an amendment proposed to decriminalize teen sexting between willing participants.

The debate is at the State Capitol on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.