Raising teenagers in today’s digital age requires hyper-vigilance. The latest scientific research into prefrontal cortex development confirms what parents have long known: the teen brain is not well-equipped for rational decision-making. As compared to their adult counterparts, teens tend to make more impulsive decisions based on emotions (and, well, hormones). In this regard, Louisiana law has failed to keep up with science.
Add to this mix the ability to photograph one’s self and send these digital images within seconds to one’s high school crush (or to the world via social media) and we now have a recipe for disaster. Not surprisingly, Louisiana law is racing and failing to keep up with technology. The state prescribes draconian penalties for “sex offenders” and possessors/distributors of “child pornography” while categorizing teens as “minors and majors” and “juveniles and adults.”
This post is part of a series of hypotheticals on the effects of these laws on Adele (16), Brittney (15), Christina (20), Justin (18), Kevin (19), and Lance (16).
Adele, a sophomore, turned 16 last week. She is dating Justin, a senior. They’ve been together “forever” (i.e., 3 months). Let’s assume that Adele and Justin are part of a church youth group and have vowed celibacy until marriage. As such, they have never “hooked up” in the parlance of our times. For Justin’s 18th birthday (today), Adele surprises him by texting nude photos of herself to Justin. Justin is pleased and promises he will never share these with anyone. He and Adele begin their nightly texting “I love you” ritual which gets a bit hotter than usual because Justin is growing tired of this celibacy vow. The next day Justin accidentally leaves his phone at school, where it is found by his teacher. She searches the phone to determine whose it is. She sees Adele’s photos. She notifies the school counselor who has a duty to report such things to the police.
Who gets in trouble, and for what?
Adele is a juvenile and has violated La. R.S. 14:81.1.1 (Louisiana’s “texting statute”) which applies to those under 17. She will be prosecuted in Juvenile court and will likely receive a slap on the wrist. She has also theoretically created and distributed child pornography but luckily our state legislature in its wisdom has intervened by creating the texting statute, ensuring such indiscretions are not prosecuted under Child Porn laws.
Justin is an adult and should know better. He is in possession of child pornography (La. R.S. 14:81.1) which carries a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 20 years in jail. The statute expressly forbids suspension of the sentence, probation in lieu of jail time, and parole of the offender by the Dept. of Corrections while he is serving his sentence. The maximum fine he could receive is $50,000. If convicted, Justin would be a registered sex offender for the 15 yearsafter he finishes serving time. La. R.S. 14:81.1E.(1)(a). La. R.S. 15:544.
Justin would also likely be charged by police with Indecent Behavior with Juveniles (La. R.S. 14:81) due to the lewd and lascivious texts he sent after receiving the photos. This carries zero to seven years and a maximum fine of $5,000. Hopefully the District Attorney’s office would not file a bill of information formally charging Justin with the crime because he and Adele were not 2 full years apart in age. As such, he couldn’t be convicted of the charge based on their birthdays. Unless later expunged, the charge would remain on his arrest record.
More detailed thoughts by Andrea Potter on sexting teens in Louisiana:
Additional resources regarding the teenage brain: