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Bizarre sexting case in Virginia may have you reconsider sending naked photos

bizarre sexting case virginia may reconsider sending naked photos pro juventute
Update on August 4, 2014: After a trial that lasted more than two hours, a judge has found the 17-year-old, identified as Trey Sims, as neither guilty or not guilty. Sims, however, has to serve a one-year probation, which bars him from using social media, surfing the Web, or texting; Sims must also complete 100 hours of community service, and cannot contact his girlfriend (the “victim”) and her family. If Sims complies, the child pornography charges against him could be dropped. (H/t Betabeat)

Update: The Manassas City Police Department said it would no longer pursue the search warrant that involves photographing the teenager’s erect genitalia. The 17-year-old has been charged “manufacturing and distributing child pornography,” after sexting an explicit video to his 15-year-old girlfriend; authorities wanted to take a photo of the boy’s privates in order to match it to the video. The Prince William County prosecutors have now decided to drop the plan, and the police will let the warrant expire. According to the Washington Post, no reason was given for why the warrant pursuit was abandoned, but we can safely assume that the whole idea was ridiculous (and possibly illegal) to begin with. Read the original story below for more details.

“Sexting,” the exchange of explicit messages, has become a popular phenomenon among teens. Most who do it probably think it’s harmless and private, but unfortunately for one young man in Virginia, it could lead him behind bars. But that’s just one of his worries: The bigger issue might be how the local police department plans to do it – by taking a photo of his erect genitalia.

Here’s how it started: According to his defense attorney, the 17-year-old from Manassas City has been accused of sending an explicit video to his 15-year-old girlfriend, who apparently initiated the sexting. The girl’s mother subsequently filed a complaint to authorities, which ultimately led to a juvenile court trial in June. The case was dismissed (the prosecutors forgot to certify the boy as a juvenile), but police managed to bring up new charges (“manufacturing and distributing child pornography”), get a search warrant for the boy’s home, arrest him, send him to jail, and take photos of his genitals, against his will.

But this is where the matter gets weirder. Jessica Harbeson Foster, the boy’s lawyer, said the prosecuting attorney wants the boy to either plead guilty (he faces two felony charges, which could mean jail time until he’s 21 and be included on the sex offender list for life), or would incarcerate him by getting a new warrant to take new photos of his erect penis; the police would then use the photos to compare it against the ones from the boy’s phone (apparently the first photos were either not enough or couldn’t be admitted into the case).

When Foster asked how that would be done, she was told, “We just take him down to the hospital, give him a shot and then take the pictures that we need,” Foster said to the Washington Post, adding that they would “use special software to compare pictures of this penis to this penis. Who does this? It’s just crazy?”

Since the news broke, people have taken to Twitter and Facebook to express their outrage over the Manassas PD’s planned procedure. (The police have issued its official response to the matter.) Jim Romenesko reported that even an unrelated tweet and Facebook post from the Manassas PD this morning, which shows police officers holding stuffed animals, was bombed with angry comments relating to the sexting case.

As of now, the boy has been released, and no new photos have been taken. Although the court date was originally set for July 1, a new one has been set for July 15. But whether the prosecutors have a case, remains to be seen; the county’s lawyer is looking into the matter, even though he was told that there is insufficient credibility. Judging from the negative press, the PD could possibly drop the case, but the issue also involves the state and county authorities, not just the police.

There are several issues that are at play in this case. With sexting being a major pastime for children and adults, the outcome from this case could affect policies surrounding messaging apps, smartphones, and other forms of digital communication. But another issue is, have the police and state attorneys overstepped their boundaries, and are now overreaching the laws in order to set some kind of example (remember, both teenagers were actively sexting each other, but the boy has been singled out). As the boy’s court-appointed guardian told the Post, it seems the Manassas PD are creating child pornography of their own in order to put a child in jail.

“They’re using a statute that was designed to protect children from being exploited in a sexual manner,” Carlos Flores Laboy said to the Post. “To take a picture of this young man in a sexually explicit manner. The irony is incredible.

“As a parent myself, I was floored. It’s child abuse. We’re wasting thousands of dollars and resources and man-hours on a sexting case. That’s what we’re doing,” he added.

(Via The Washington Post)

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