GREENSBURG (AP) – Issuing citations to two Western Pennsylvania teens for sharing a racy cellphone photo – instead of charging them with a felony – shows the state’s new law against sexting is working, police and a prosecutor said.
Greensburg police and Westmoreland County John Peck told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review the Greensburg Salem Middle School students – a 13-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy – face only a summary offense for a topless photo the girl sent the boy in October.
Before Gov. Tom Corbett signed the new law in October, such conduct would have been a felony. But the new law allows a lesser summary charge – similar to a traffic ticket – for juveniles older than 12 who send such images with no intent to harass another or to distribute the image.
The boy who asked the girl to send him the photo could have faced more serious charges had he sent the photo to others, but he kept it to himself and deleted it, Greensburg police Detective Sgt. Henry Fontana said.
“In this case, there wasn’t any intent to harass anybody,” said Fontana, who filed the citations a few days ago. “It was basically poor judgment.”
Peck agreed, saying, “I think a summary offense is more appropriate in most incidents. This is not a case of child pornography that came under the statute. These are situations where kids are being immature and foolish.”
State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, sponsored the sexting bill. The law makes more serious sexting offenses by minors a misdemeanor, which can result in incarceration or probation. The summary offense involves a fine.
“Our goal has always been to send the message to teens that this behavior is illegal, while also saving them from a lifetime of the negative effects of a felony prosecution as a sexual offender,” Grove said after Corbett signed the bill. Cases involving images of children under 12 can still be prosecuted under child pornography and other laws that make such conduct a felony.
In 2008 in the same school district, about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, six high school students were charged with felony child pornography offenses for sexting. Some critics said the law was too harsh or didn’t allow enough leeway for police to file lesser charges.
Five of those students were made to take court-ordered educational programs by a juvenile court judge, while the sixth — who had a prior juvenile court record — got probation.