Sexting is the transmission of sexually explicit images, videos, or messages by text or email, most often via mobile phone.
Sexting between consenting adults is not a crime, but when a minor is involved the criminal ramifications can be far-reaching.
As sexting becomes more common, an increasing number of states—including Colorado—have adopted laws that address sexually explicit electronic messages in which minors are senders or recipients. In this post, the Denver criminal defense attorneys at Wolf Law take a closer look at Colorado’s sexting law and how it relates to other sex crime charges.
Adults and Sexting
Consenting adults can lawfully sext in Colorado. However, adults who send or receive sexually explicit messages from a minor (a person under age 18) can face criminal charges and serious consequences.
Possessing child pornography, which can be obtained via sexting, is charged as sexual exploitation of a child and is a Class 6 felony in Colorado. As it relates to sexting, sexual exploitation of a child also includes sending unsolicited nude or sexual images to a child or soliciting a minor to send sexually explicit material.
Sexting can also implicate adults in a range of internet crimes.
For example, if an adult exchanges sexual messages with a minor intended to encourage a meeting, the adult could also face an internet luring charge.
Charges involving the sexual exploitation of a child are accompanied by severe penalties. Depending on the circumstances and the individual’s criminal background, offenders may face up to 12 years in prison and fines up to $750,000.
Adults and Sexting: Penalties
First-time adult sexting offenders who possess a few still images often face Class 5 felony charges. Penalties for a Class 5 felony in Colorado include one to three years in prison and/or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000.
Repeat offenders and those in possession of specific types of materials face stricter penalties. Sexual exploitation of a child increases to a Class 4 felony if:
- It’s a second or subsequent offense;
- The child pornography is a video or other moving visual image; or
- More than 20 qualifying items contain sexually exploitative material
Penalties for a Class 4 felony in Colorado include two to six years in prison and/or a fine of $2,000 to $500,000.
An adult’s involvement in making or distributing child pornography is a Class 3 felony. Penalties for a Class 3 felony in Colorado include four to 12 years in prison and/or a fine of $3,000 to $750,000. Those convicted of the sexual exploitation of a child will also be required to register as sex offenders.
Teens and Sexting
In 2017, Colorado adopted a teen sexting law designed to mitigate felony charges among minors engaging in reciprocal sexting with other minors. Prior to the new law, the only option for criminal sexting charges for minors was felony exploitation of a child.
The law created a tiered system that distinguishes consensual messages between teens from the abusive or malicious exchange of sexually explicit images, videos, or messages. The law details three specific offenses: exchanging, possession, and posting.
Exchanging occurs when a minor knowingly exchanges an image of himself or herself with another person who is at least 14 years old or is less than four years younger, and who believed the recipient consented to the exchange; or, when a minor knowingly possesses an image of another who is at least 14 years old or is less than four years younger, and who believed the depicted person consented to the exchange.
Possession occurs when a minor knowingly possesses an image of another person who is at least 14 years old or less than four years younger without consent.
Posting occurs when a minor knowingly distributes, displays or publishes the image of another who is at least 14 years old or less than four years younger without permission; or, distributes, displays or publishes an image of himself or herself and the recipient didn’t request it and suffered emotional distress; or, the poster knew or should have known that the depicted person had a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Teens and Sexting: Penalties
Exchanging is a civil infraction that may require enrollment in educational programs or a fine up to $50.
Possession is a petty offense and might include a fine and/or up to six months in jail. Possession charges may be enhanced to a Class 2 misdemeanor if the possessor has 10 or more images depicting three or more separate persons; a Class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Posting is a Class 2 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Posting may be enhanced to a Class 1 misdemeanor if:
- The defendant’s intent was to coerce, intimidate, threaten or cause emotional distress;
- The defendant previously posted private materials and completed a diversion or educational program;
- The defendant had a prior adjudication; or
- The defendant posted three or more images of separate persons
Penalties for a Class 1 misdemeanor include up to 18 months in jail and/or a fine of $5,000.
The Denver criminal defense lawyers at Wolf Law understand the potentially life-changing impacts of sexting-related charges, and our attorneys have extensive experience in cases related to sex crimes.