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In Michigan, “Sexting” Could Land Your Child in Prison and on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry

February 10, 2011 2 comments

As we all know, the cell phone and smartphones have changed our society and the way in which we access and send information. Unfortunately, children who have access to these devices have started the practice of sending sexually explicit messages and images to others. What most people don’t know is that your child may be charged with a felony for each time they send or receive a sexually explicit image.

The Michigan statute that prohibits this conduct, MCL 750.145c, penalizes three specific types of behavior:

  • Producing or Encouragement – persuading, inducing, enticing, coercing, causing or knowingly allowing a child (defined elsewhere as someone under the age of 18) to engage in a child sexually abusive activity (intercourse, erotic nudity, etc.) for the purpose of producing any child sexually abusive material (films, pictures, digital images, etc.) is guilty of a felony punishable by up to 20 years or a fine of not more than $100,000.00, or both.
  • Distributing – a felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison, or a fine of not more than $50,000.00, or both.
  • Knowingly Possessing – a felony punishable by up to 4 years in prison, or a fine of not more than $10,000.00, or both.

In addition, even if your child is given a special status for youthful offenders (HYTA), then they will be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

Sound harsh? Well, it does to this writer too. To be fair, this law was originally enacted in a different time and fails to take into consideration the significant technological advancements that are now mainstream.   While I do not condone or encourage the prevalence at which our teenagers are engaging in sexual activity, it would be naive to become ostrichlike and bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is going on with our teenagers.

Taking into consideration that engaging in this type of activity could result with a felony on a teenager’s record, potential prison time and registration as a sex offender, the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Still not convinced? Let’s consider for a moment a scenario where a teenager texts his girlfriend and encourages her to send a nude photo via text or email. The teenage boy then sends the nude photo to his friend. Under the current statutory scheme, everyone involved in this scenario is guilty of at least one felony and the boyfriend could be charged with the 20 year felony for encouraging his girlfriend to take the nude photo and send it to him. He is also guilty of the 7 year felony for distributing it to his friend and the 4 year felony for possessing the photo. The friend is guilty of the 4 year felony for possessing the photo and finally the girlfriend, like the boyfriend, is guilty of the 20 year felony for producing the photo, the 7 year felony for distributing the photo, and the 4 year felony for possessing the photo.

While other states have considered lesser penalties for this type of offense, Michigan continues to take an outdated approach. Until this law is modified to take into account the changes in technology, parents need to police their children’s use of the internet and texting.