In Part 1 of the series, I stated that Louisiana law has done a poor job of keeping up with the science of the teenage brain and the technology held in the palms of our hands. The state prescribes severe penalties for those who commit sex offenses, requires them to register as sex offenders, and categorizes teens attending the same high school as minors, majors, juveniles, and adults.
Our criminal justice system could ruin the life of a good kid you know. A teenager doing what teenagers do could be committing a crime that could result in a felony conviction, a jail sentence, and/or 15 years of sex offender registration.
As demonstrated below, the language of our statutes is sometimes poorly written. The legislature created a conundrum with 14:80.1 (Misdemeanor Carnal Knowledge of a juvenile) and 14:81 (Indecent behavior with juveniles) along with some of the “sexting” laws. An 18-year old can have sexual intercourse with a 15-year old (misdemeanor) and receive a less severe penalty than a 17-year old who is engaged in sexting or “lewd and lascivious acts” with the same 15-year old (felony).
Consider this post as Part 2 of a series of hypothetical scenarios on the effects of these laws on teenagers.
Brittney (15) is the smartest girl in school. She’s a sophomore taking advanced classes and has no time for the boys (or girls) her age. She meets Christina (19) at a coffee shop and develops a crush. Christina is a college student and dates girls. Brittney reminds Christina of herself at that age. They exchange contact information. Over the next few months, though they never develop a physical relationship, they text and email back-and-forth. The content of the emails/texts turns into detailed sexual discussions. Brittney sends Christina nude photos (though Christina never asked for them, nor does she send any nude photos of herself to Brittney). Christina doesn’t discourage Brittney’s behavior or report it to authorities. She considers herself a mentor to a young and curious Brittney, but she sees that Brittney wants to become physically involved. Christina eventually tells Brittney that they are too far apart in age to be in a relationship together, but she encourages Brittney to date and sleep with girls her own age to explore her sexual identity.
At a party one night, Brittany (15) meets Justin (18), a college student. They date for a few weeks and have consensual sexual intercourse (insofar as a 15-year old can give legal consent). They never discuss sexual activity over text messages or emails – they don’t “sext.” There is one text on Brittney’s phone from Justin where he says “Last night was my first time having sex. I’m so happy that my first time was with you.” Brittney considers this text to be sappy and sophomoric and breaks up with Justin.
Brittney’s father suspects that she is dating an 18-year old man. He goes to the police and turns in her cell phone as evidence (yes, this actually happens).
Based solely on the cell phone as evidence, and assuming that Brittney refuses to answer any of the investigator’s questions (precocious indeed!):
– Who gets in trouble, and for what?
– Who’s in more trouble: Christina or Justin?
Brittney has violated La. R.S.14:81.1.1, the misdemeanor “Sexting” statute. She will go to Juvenile Court and get a slap on the wrist. Theoretically, she produced and distributed child pornography in violation of La. R.S. 14:81.1 when she photographed herself and sent the photos to Christina. The teen sexting statute was passed into law to prevent her from being charged with that.
The same photo that was produced by Brittney (a misdemeanor) is a felony when it hits Christina’s cell phone. She is in possession of Child Pornography (14:81.1), a felony which carries a minimum of 5 years to a maximum of 20 years without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence and a max fine of $50,000. She will be required to register as a sex offender for 15 years if she is convicted of this offense.
Christina is also guilty of La.R.S. 14:81 – Indecent behavior with juveniles, a felony, because she engaged in the transmission of textual and written communication depicting lewd or lascivious words to Brittney who is over two years her junior. The penalty for this is 0 to 7 years of jail and a maximum fine of $5,000. She will be required to register as a sex offender for 15 years if she is convicted of this offense.
Christina will also be charged with a violation of La. R.S. 14:81.3 – Computer-aided solicitation of a minor, a felony. Her text messages to Brittney could be construed as being “for the purpose of or with the intent to persuade, induce, entice, or coerce the person to engage or participate in sexual conduct.” Given our scenario, and our legislature’s inability to craft well-written law, conviction of this offense carries either 2-to-10 or 5-to-10 years without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence and a max fine of $10,000. See La.R.S. 14:81.3(B)(1)(a) and (B)(1)(c). She will be required to register as a sex offender for 15 years if she is convicted of this offense.
Here’s the conundrum:
Justin (18) is guilty of a misdemeanor for having sexual intercourse with Brittney (15). He has violated La.R.S. 14:80.1, MisdemeanorCarnal Knowledge of a Juvenile, because he is over 17 and Brittney is more than two years younger than him but not greater than four years younger than him. This charge carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 6 months. This does not require Justin to register as a sex offender.
Justin might be charged with violating La.R.S. 14:81 (Indecent behavior) – a felony offense – but there’s no proof on the phone that he violated this statute.
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