By Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc.

On May 7th, 2010, Governor Brewer signed SB 1266 into law. That means it’s time to gather your children together for a serious conversation about moral, ethical and new, legal consequences of “sexting” and similar behaviors in Arizona.  The new law, which goes into effect on July 1st, is aimed directly at juveniles and is designed to discourage the very popular practice of distributing sexually explicit images between “friends” via cell phones, computers or other electronic devices.  The goal of the law is one we can all support, but the unfortunate effect of the law, at least in the near term, will be to put large numbers of young people in contact with the juvenile justice system – and that result is far from ideal.   Since you certainly don’t want your children to be counted among the caught, you’ll want to make sure they understand how they should and should not behave online or in cell phone contact with others.  So, here’s a simple suggestion – print out this article, order in some pizza and share some food for thought (and healthy decision making) with your children tonight!

This year, Arizona joined more than a dozen states that have written new legislation to penalize “sexting.”   Our law creates a petty offense (one punishable by a fine only) for a juvenile who “knowingly or intentionally uses an electronic communication device to transmit or display a sexually explicit depiction of a minor to one other person.”  This means that beginning July 1st; a maximum penalty of $300 can be assessed for EACH inappropriate image a minor child might send to another minor child, say a boyfriend or girlfriend, via cell phone, wireless phone or computer.  If the transmission is sent to more than one other person ( i.e. posted on a  Facebook  page or sent in an email or text message to more than one recipient) the penalty rises to a Class 3 misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum  fine of $500 for each image or video transmitted!  Penalties increase even further for juveniles who violate the law on more than one occasion. 

It is essential for your children to understand that every word or image they text, email or post online will live forever, and can be retrieved as evidence of a crime by law enforcement.  Since our new law also makes it unlawful for a juvenile to “possess” a sexually explicit image of another juvenile, any such material they might have stored in a hard drive or on film, in a camera or on a phone must be destroyed completely.   Remember, too, that this law applies to juveniles only.  Anyone 18 or older involved in the same activities could potentially be subject to prosecution under Arizona’s extremely strict child pornography laws which carry mandatory and long prison sentences with lifetime sex offender registration requirements.   Clearly, the message we must pass on to our children is that “sexting” is not innocent fun and that even between two consenting juveniles it is illegal in our state. 

Fortunately, our new law also provides reasonable protection to children who do not act knowingly or intentionally with regard to “sexted” messages.  It’s important for your children to understand that they will not be prosecuted under this law if they, 1) do not solicit the message, 2) take reasonable steps to destroy, delete or eliminate any images sent, 3) report the transmission to a parent, guardian, school or law enforcement official and, 4) if they do not forward a message on to any other person.   You can help your children avoid legal entanglements by teaching them the law, and by role playing various scenarios that might arise for them.  Ask them to describe choices and decisions they might be called upon to make, and encourage them to share their knowledge of our state’s new “sexting” law with their friends.   Together, we can help preserve the innocence of our children’s childhoods and make cyberspace a safer place for us all.

Your Family and The Law is a monthly parenting feature written for clients of Davis/Miles Law Firm by Claudia Gilburd, Founder of Teen Law School, Inc.  For more information about Teen Law School and its seminars for parents and teens, please visit www.teenlawschool.com.  For any legal matter involving minors, you can rely on sensitive, experienced Davis/Miles attorneys to aggressively protect and defend their constitutionally guaranteed legal rights and personal liberties.  Call us today.