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How Does Ohio Criminalize Sexting?

Sex-related charges are complex to navigate and can vary on a case-by-case basis, depending on prior offenses and the circumstances of the offense in question. In today’s blog, we discuss a particular aspect of Ohio’s sex crimes laws – sexting. Keep reading to learn more about the elements of a sexting crime in Ohio and what penalties an individual could face upon conviction.

What Is Considered “Sexting” in Ohio?

“Sexting” refers to the sending of nude or sexually suggestive images electronically, such as through text messaging, social media, or email. With the increasing prevalence of technology use among the younger generation, sexting has become especially common among teenagers, many of whom are minors, and can easily be used to cyberbully – a crime of harassment.

In Ohio, sexting images of minors and sexting images to minors can be prosecuted under the state’s laws addressing child pornography, child endangerment, and dissemination of harmful material to minors, depending on the specific conduct in question. Note that a minor in Ohio is a person younger than 18 years of age.

Ohio’s child pornography laws make it a felony for anyone to:

  • create, share, or possess an obscene image depicting a minor;
  • create, share, or knowingly possess an image of a minor participating in sexual conduct or contact;
  • create or transfer an image of a child in a nude state; or
  • recklessly possess or view an image of a child in a lewd exhibition of nudity.

Note that Ohio’s child pornography laws don’t distinguish between acts committed by adults and by minors. This means that just like an adult, a minor who creates, shares, or possesses a sexual image of a minor can be prosecuted for a felony offense. Further, a minor who sexts a photo of themself also commits a felony under the law.

State law penalizes both sending and receiving sexual images of minors that are obscene or sexually oriented or that portray nudity. The law presumes the sender or creator of the content knows its illegal nature, but if the prosecutor wants to pursue criminal prosecution for the possession of child pornography, they must prove some level of knowledge on the recipient’s part.

Federal Sexting Laws

Sexting can also be a crime under federal law, depending on the offense. 2003’s Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act makes it illegal to use a computer to send or receive any:

  • obscene visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct;
  • image of a minor actually engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
  • material containing child pornography.

It is also a federal crime for someone to cause a minor to take part in sexually explicit conduct to portray that conduct. Parents are included in those who can be prosecuted if they consented to the minor’s participation.

Federal prosecution of juveniles for sexting is less common; the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act generally provides that, where possible, juveniles should be prosecuted in state courts rather than in federal courts.

Penalties and Sentencing

The penalty for creating or sending obscene, sexually oriented, or nude images of minor is a second degree felony punishable by 2-8 years in prison. Possession of such images range from a third to a fifth degree felony, with harsher punishments reserved for repeat offenders. A third degree felony carries a punishment ranging from 9 months to 5 years in prison, and those convicted of fourth and fifth degree felonies face 6-18 months of prison time.

Encouraging a minor to be photographed nude or in an obscene or sexually oriented manner is also a second degree felony punishable by a prison term of 2-8 years. Note that to be convicted, an offender must have known or been in a position where they reasonably should have known the content of the material.

Cases involving offenders younger than 18 may be handled in juvenile court rather than adult court. In juvenile court, judges can often exercise greater discretion in sentencing, including ordering treatment, curfews, monitoring, and community service. Minors who are 14 years or older and charged with a felony can be transferred to Ohio’s adult court and face adult penalties, though.

In Ohio, adults convicted of child pornography laws or child endangerment laws must register as sex offenders. A court may also order a minor age 14 or older to register as a sex offender if they commit these and similar sex offenses. Note that Ohio does have laws regarding juvenile sex offender registration and notification (JSORN) with various implications based on the offender’s age, prior record, and current offense, so it is best to contact an experienced attorney with questions related to juvenile sex offenses.

Let Us Defend Against Sexting Charges

If you or your child are facing sexting charges, contact an experienced lawyer immediately for legal guidance. Sexting falls under specific child pornography or child endangerment statutes in Ohio, though there may be sentencing alternatives for juveniles. The attorneys at Bridges, Jillisky, Weller & Gullifer, LLC can take a look at your case and help you craft a strong defense against your sexting charge, especially as these cases are often handled on a case-by-case basis.

Contact our firm at Bridges, Jillisky, Weller & Gullifer, LLC to schedule a consultation today.