Senate bill would reduce penalties for underage sexting



FRANKFORT – Youngsters would be spared a felony if they got caught trading nude pictures among themselves – a practice known as sexting – under a bill that passed out of the Kentucky Senate Thursday by a unanimous vote.

Senate Bill 37 would address people under the age of 18 who violate the state law by sending sexually explicit images – both photos and videos – of themselves or other minors via mobile phones. It would reduce the penalty from a felony to a Class-B misdemeanor for the first offense and a Class-A misdemeanor for all subsequent offenses. Former prosecutor Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, said the lower penalty would still allow judges to impose fines, education requirements and community service.

Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, said he introduced the legislation because everyone in the judicial system – from police officers, prosecutors and judges – needed additional options to punish youngsters instead of just branding them felons for life. A conviction under the current law could even land a youngster on the sex offender register.

“They had identified a problem … within our juvenile population and that problem actually revolves around this little device right here,” Bowen said while pointing to a mobile phone he was holding. “Used properly, we can accomplish a lot with this – get a lot of good things done. Used improperly, it can cause a lot of problems.

“We as adults should be about to distinguish right from wrong and use that device properly. But the fact of the matter is, we are not the only ones that use this. I dare say that our juvenile population might use it more than we do. Often times in their use in this device they make youthful indiscretions – make bad choices.”

Another former prosecutor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, said SB 37 allows judges to impose a more nuanced punishment and teach juveniles how serious the crime is without destroying the youths’ futures.

“This allows them to have a criminal penalty and face consequences, but hopefully use it has a learning exercise and not carry a felony conviction – much less sex-offender registry for the rest of their lives,” Westerfield said.

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