Maryland’s top court has held that a teen who sent a video of herself performing a sex act on another teen to two of her friends distributed child pornography and displayed obscene content to other minors.
The teen, called S.K. by the court, attended a Charles County high school. The 16-year-old female had a group chat on her cellphone for text messages with two friends. S.K. sent a one-minute video of herself performing a sex act on a young man to her group chat friends using her cellphone. After a falling out among the trio, the video was distributed to other students at the school and shared with the school resource officer.
The State’s Attorney for Charles County filed a juvenile petition alleging criminal charges against her under Maryland’s child pornography and obscenity laws. S.K. was charged with filming a minor engaged in sexual conduct in violation of state law, distributing child pornography in violation of state law and displaying an obscene item to a minor in violation of state law.
While some states have enacted criminal laws against sexting, Maryland has not. Sexting in Maryland is usually prosecuted under child pornography laws where it’s a crime to distribute or produce child pornography. Although child pornography laws are intended to severely punish adults who exploit children, as this case illustrates child pornography laws and related charges can also be used against teens who engage in sexting. A person who causes or allows a child under the age of 18 to be photographed in sexual conduct can lead to a criminal charge under Maryland’s child pornography laws. It’s also a crime for anyone to possess and retain an image or video of a child under the age of 16 engaged in sexual conduct or in a state of sexual excitement. In Maryland, it is also a crime to show or send a minor – someone under the age of 18 — nude or sexually suggestive photos or images.
At the end of a juvenile hearing, S.K. was found to be involved in counts two and three. She was placed on electronic monitoring and supervised probation with several requirements such as getting permission before changing her home address or leaving the state, submitting to a weekly drug urinalysis, completing an anger management course and submitting a substance abuse assessment. However, she was not ordered to register as a sex offender. After the requirements were satisfied, the case was closed and sealed.
S.K. appealed the delinquency finding. Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals held, among other things, that a minor engaged in consensual sexual activity is not exempt from Maryland’s child pornography laws. The Court of Appeals also upheld the decision, concluding that the juvenile court had not made a mistake when it found that 16-year-old S.K. was involved in distributing child pornography.
The state’s top court observed that the main question in the case is whether a minor engaged in consensual sexual activity can be his or her own pornographer through the act of sexing? Sexting is the sending of nude, suggestive or sexually explicit photos by electronic means, usually by cellphone. The court noted that S.K. had, “albeit unwisely, engaged in the same behavior as many of her peers.” But, the court noted that the language of the statute was clear and that an exception could not be read into the statute for minors. The court also noted that the language of the statute had not been updated since the advent of sexting and suggested that the General Assembly consider legislation that would treat teenage sexting differently from child pornography.
If you are charged with the crime of child pornography or sexting in Maryland, you should talk to a Maryland sex crimes attorney as soon as possible. A Baltimore sex crimes attorney can review your case for defenses and an opportunity to plea bargain or to get the Maryland sex crime charges reduced. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick have experience handling Baltimore sex crime charges. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.934.3007 or via our website for a free consultation.