DENVER – Major changes could be coming for Colorado teens caught sexting if a new bill introduced in the Colorado Legislature becomes law.
Rep. Pete Lee, an El Paso County Democrat, introduced House Bill 1302 on Tuesday.
The bill would create two new charges related to sexting involving teens: posting private images by a juvenile and possessing private images by a juvenile.
Posting a private image by a juvenile would be a class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by between 3 and 12 months in jail upon conviction.
But it would become a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by between 6 and 18 months in jail, if a person posted the image with the intent to harass or distress the depicted person, if they had a history of doing so, or if they distributed photos or videos of three or more juveniles.
Possessing a private image by a juvenile would be classified as a petty offense, but it could be classified as a class 2 misdemeanor if the person in possession of the image had pictures of three or more different juveniles.
The new laws would not apply to people who were “coerced, intimidated, or harassed into distributing, displaying, publishing, or possessing a sexual explicit image of a juvenile.”
And the bill leaves open the possibility for courts to allow people convicted of possession to enter into a counseling program, and for district attorney’s offices to establish diversion programs for first-time offenders. Jefferson County already has a similar program.
The focus on teen sexting would also extend to schools under the bill.
It directs districts to have their school safety resource officers and center to have lessons available “regarding the dangers and consequences of sexting for school districts to use” that would include information on how students could avoid being charged under the new laws should they unwittingly become involved in a sexting incident.
Specifically, under the proposed new laws, people would be able to get out of the possession charge if they “took reasonable steps” to destroy or delete the image within 72 hours of receiving it, or notified law enforcement or school officials within that same time period.
Both new laws would apply to people who either posted or possessed the image of a juvenile without their consent.
Under current law, anyone engaged in juvenile sexting without someone’s consent is liable to be charged with sexual exploitation of a child. But it is rare that teens are ever charged with the crime, which carries a mandatory sex offender registry requirement.
The new laws would make it so juveniles would not face the sexual exploitation charge if the conditions of either new proposed law is met, or if a person is between 14 and 18 years of age, or less than four years younger than the person.
In December 2015, officials announced no charges would be filed in a sexting case that involved dozens of Canon City Middle and High School students. And in April 2016, prosecutors in the 4th Judicial District said they wouldn’t charge five Pine Creek High and Challenger Middle School students who were caught sharing photos of a partially-nude juvenile.
The bill is set for its first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on April 11 at 1:30 p.m.