February 16th, 2011 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: Legislature, Cops and Courts

State Lawmakers Introduce Two Bills to Reduce Punishment for Sexting Teens

Sext Crimesby Vivian Johnson

 The Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee has introduced two bills that would, under certain circumstances, lessen the punishment of teenagers younger than 18 who "sext."

This December cover story describes how Oregon law says teens who exchange sexually explicit images through cellphones or other electronic means can be prosecuted for "use of a child in the display of sexually explicit conduct." That felony, ORS 163.670, dates back to the mid-1980s when federal and state lawmakers wanted stricter punishments for child pornographers. Twenty-five years ago, the law was intended to go after adult perverts; lawmakers didn't envision a time when teens themselves could manufacture and disseminate naughty photos of themselves by themselves.

Voter-approved Measure 73, which took effect in December, further complicated the scenario for teens who "sext." That's because the measure imposed new mandatory minimum sentences for repeat sexual offenders, including those convicted of multiple counts of ORS 163.670. (Under the guidelines of Measure 73, sending two dirty photos at two different times could be enough to land a teenager in court for two counts of ORS 163.670.)

Senate Bill 677 [PDF] is the first of the two proposed measures introduced late last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The measure, if passed:

Creates partial defense to certain sex offenses for certain juveniles and persons less than three years older than victim. Reduces sex offense to crime of inappropriate use of sexual image.
Creates crime of inappropriate use of sexual image. Punishes by maximum of one year’s imprisonment, $6,250 fine, or both. Declares emergency, effective on passage.

As an alternative, Senate Bill 678 [PDF] would create the same new exceptions, yet also allow leeway to do more. It would [emphasis mine]:

Creates partial defense to certain sex offenses for certain juveniles and persons less than three years older than victim. Reduces sex offense to crime of inappropriate use of sexual image or, under certain circumstances, authorizes court to impose sentence not to exceed any otherwise applicable mandatory minimum or presumptive sentence, whichever is longer.
Creates crime of inappropriate use of sexual image. Punishes by maximum of one year’s imprisonment, $6,250 fine, or both. Declares emergency, effective on passage.
One footnote: If approved, neither of these measures would have applied specifically to a case like the one of Antjuanece Brown, the subject of the December cover story. She was over 18 and more than three years older than her girlfriend when Washington County prosecutors charged her with one count of use of child in the display of sexually explicit conduct.
 
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