For the first time in a while, Florida lawmakers have done the smart thing by reducing the sentencing guidelines for a very concerning offense– sexting.
Under the original law, teens could be convicted and punished under the state’s child pornography laws. They could also have been required to register as sexual offenders for sending or receiving nude photos of underage girlfriends, boyfriends or classmates.
Under the new law, which went into effect Oct. 1, convicted teenagers will be punished with a non-criminal violation for a first offense, a misdemeanor for a second offense, and a felony for three-time offenders, the Sun Sentinel reports.
Sexting in West Palm Beach and nationwide has become a new trend among teenagers because of the availability of cameras on cell phones and the instant access to sending and receiving photos. Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers have followed this trend and the Florida Legislature’s pathetic response to it.
Sadly, many teens were branded as sex offenders for simply receiving a photo of a naked person, whether it was the teens’ plan to receive or not. These young people were even required to register as sex offenders in state and national registry databases, which are available online for all to see. Many teens lost an opportunity to attend college, earn scholarships or have any kind of positive future after being convicted of a felony, sent to prison and labeled a sex offender.
The Legislature over-reacted with the original penalties, not taking into account that many teens have poor decision-making skills. We are hopeful there is some help for those who have already been convicted and labeled sexual offenders under the initial poorly thought-out law.
Here’s a breakdown of the new penalties for teens caught sexting:
First offense: non-criminal violation, like a ticket, punishable by eight hours of community service or a $60 fine.
Second offense: A first-degree misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in jail, fines and fees, and possible community service.
Third offense: A third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Obviously, a third offense can be quite terrifying. Even a second-offense should be taken quite seriously by a teen who has many years ahead of him or her. Thankfully, lawmakers have made a first offense a wake-up call instead of a permanent scar on a person’s criminal history record.
These charges must be aggressively defended because even a first mark can be devastating, and second or third alleged offense is even worse.
The criminal justice system is meant to punish, not rehabilitate. Prosecutors and police must realize that teens make mistakes — as they themselves probably did when they were young — and a criminal record isn’t always the right move.
A West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney knows that and fights with everything available to ensure a permanent mark doesn’t ruin a bright future. Kids do dumb things and they should be punished — by their parents. Not every case deserves a criminal record. It’s a good thing that Florida lawmakers finally got that right.