March 2nd, 2011 3:13 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: Legislature, Cops and Courts, Politics

Legislative Fixes for Felony "Sexting" Get Hearings

Sext Crimesby Vivian Johnson

A pair of bills that would decrease the penalty for teenagers who "sext" got their first joint public hearing today in the Legislature, where lawmakers appear poised to add Oregon to the growing list of states that have lessened the punishment for "sexting."

Senate Bills 677 and 678 offer two alternatives for making "sexting" among teenagers a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Today in Oregon, taking a sexually suggestive photograph of a child younger than 18 is a felony according to a 1985 state law that was intended to crack down on child pornographers. That law didn't envision a time when teens themselves could so easily make—and share—explicit photos of themselves by themselves.

The motivation in the Legislature for tackling teen "sexting" stems from the November passage of Measure 73, a voter-approved initiative that increased the prison sentences for repeat offenders who commit certain sex crimes. (Measure 73 also affects repeat offenders who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.)

Before Measure 73, a 17-year-old boy who took a sexually suggestive photo of his 16-year-old girlfriend and then shared it with others faced a 70-month sentence if convicted. Under Measure 73, all it takes to be considered a repeat offender is taking two sexually suggestive photos at two different times.  Now, if that same 17-year-old boy took two photos of his girlfriend at two different times, he could face a punishment of 25 years if convicted under Measure 73.

The two bills would address that possibility by making "sexting" a misdemeanor not subject to Measure 73 under certain circumstances. For example, if the two subjects are younger than 18 and they are within three years in age of each other, district attorneys could charge the offender with the misdemeanor "inappropriate use of a sexual image."

Testimony today came from representatives of Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the Oregon District Attorneys Association, the Oregon Anti-Crime Alliance and the Partnership for Safety and Justice. All four groups expressed some level of support for the proposed new exception.

For more extensive coverage of the issue, check out "Sext Crimes," a December cover story in WW on the topic (and the source of the photo above).
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