Delaware does not have specific laws about sexting, and any criminal infraction is found under the heading of sex crimes, child endangerment, pornography, sexual exploitation, and harassment. The act of sexting is loosely defined behaving in a sexually explicit way through verbally typed messages or photography that is then conveyed electronically via mobile phone or device. The nature of the charge can be largely predicated by the individuals involved in the offense, and severity is thus determined by the interaction.
Different charges can be incurred between:
- An adult and other adult(s)
- A minor and other minor(s)
- Adult(s) and minor(s)
Thus while sexting itself is not regulated by the state, the content of the interactions becomes the basis for a crime.
Sexting Examples and Federal Laws
Federal laws can always take precedence over state laws, or lack thereof. Under Federal law, it is illegal to electronically transmit, create, or possess a sexually explicit depiction of a minor. The permission or furtherance of such behavior is also considered illegal, and can hold guardians responsible for such actions, even if it is between two minors. Although the legality of sexting can be charged at a national level, it is usually handled by the state under an associated set of laws.
To this end, the penalties that can arise from sexting can vary greatly, not only with the charge that is heard by the courts, but also with the age of the offenders involved. Any minor who is found in violation of state laws through the act of sexting will be tried and sentenced as a juvenile, with greater consideration given to the circumstances. Regardless, the punishment can range from fines and community service to house arrest or detention in a juvenile facility.
Anyone who is over the age of 18 is tried as an adult, and this can change the severity of the charges greatly. Even if the individuals involved are classmates, if one is 18 and the other is younger, it may be viewed as child pornography, child exploitation, or endangerment of a minor. These charges are considered felonies and can be punishable with fines and prison sentences that may range from three years for a class F felony up to 25 years for a class B felony conviction. This prosecution is also applicable when all parties are over the age of 18, although it can change the offense to harassment or sexual indecency.
The charges that may be raised in cases of sexting, regardless of age distinctions, can lead to an offender becoming designated as a sex criminal. This can apply to both juveniles and adults, although the penalties for an adult who is sexting with a minor can be more severe. When this action occurs between an adult and a minor, the greater crimes of child exploitation and dealing in child pornography can carry up to 25 years of jail time. If the charge is rendered as possession of child pornography it can be a lesser sentence but is still considered a sex crime, and carries with it the need for the offender to submit to assessments and be assigned a risk tier for the determined amount of time. This will also require registration of changes of address, submission of transparency to places of work, and restrictions on proximity to minors.
In cases where sexting occurs between two adults, a different set of laws are considered when determining whether a crime has taken place or not. These crimes can include:
- Sexual harassment
- Indecent exposure
- Sexual extortion
Further, if sexting is occurring between co-workers, violations of workplace safety can be a consideration for greater charges against the offender.
Sexual Harassment and Sexting
Sexual harassment is generally considered to be unsolicited attention of a sexual nature that is directed by one individual to another. In some cases, it may be judged under the same frame work as date-rape, in that the rebuff of the attention has either been willfully or unknowingly ignored. This fact is often notwithstanding in charging an offender with sexual harassment.
Indecent exposure applies to photographic transmission of obscene, vulgar, or sexually explicit depictions. Traditionally, indecent exposure is an unsolicited act as well, and in the case of sexting, it may be applicable between adults when there is no provocation from one party to the other to receive such an image. Sexual extortion in cases of texting can be an offender/victim or offender/offender crime. In some cases extortion can include the use of images and text to humiliate or blackmail a victim, even if the victim had initially consented to the exchange. In other cases, extortion through sexting may include the illegal seizure of information, images, or messages that were considered private. Regardless of the mode, the intent to harm causes this application to become a punishable offense.
Menacing is a form of harassment that includes special circumstances. This results when the victim in the situation feels that they are physically threatened or endangered. The vagaries of sexting can make menacing one of the more commonly charged offenses, as the electronic exchange can imply the possibility of ensuing rape. Further, menacing can be combined with extortion charges when the threat of harm is a result of the offender forcibly demanding compliance for sexual indecency.
Although sexting itself is not a specific legal consideration for courts in the state of Delaware, the related harm and interactions that may occur are grounds for arrest and conviction. Penalties are a result of the circumstances of the exchanges, but may still carry jail time, fines, and restrictions on future personal freedoms.
Contact a Sex Crime Defense Attorney in Delaware
For legal help fighting your sexting conversation charges in court, call Sex Crime Defense Lawyer Brian J. Chapman at 302-656-2528 or just email his Delaware law office directly by clicking here.