The Utah Sentencing Commission is looking into ways to fine-tune two state laws that would give prosecutors more options to address teenagers who distribute nude or sexually provocative cell phone photos.
The commission will meet Wednesday to review the latest revisions in laws that cover distributing materials harmful to a minor and distributing pornography.
Concerns arose earlier this year when several Davis County teenagers began taking pictures of their breasts and genitals and then sending these photos to their friends. At least 28 possible cases came to light, but there was enough evidence to charge only 19.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings said situations such as these put prosecutors in a difficult spot: The only way to get this type of conduct into court is to charge the person with a felony.
However, he was reluctant to charge 13- and 14-year-olds with felony crimes, which seemed an extreme reaction to conduct that was essentially youthful foolishness.
On the other hand, Rawlings also did not want to do nothing since such actions are illegal.
"Basically, we were dealing with immature kids who were not fully understanding the serious consequences of their actions," Rawlings said. "All we could do is file felonies or walk away from it."
His office worked out a solution: Nearly all of these cases were categorized as misdemeanor lewdness and were resolved through nonjudicial adjudication. Parents and their teenagers met with juvenile court probation officers to work out a mutually agreeable arrangement that included such things as classes and community service.
That approach is not flawless, Rawlings notes, because anyone who was not cooperative would then have to be prosecuted for a felony which is why Rawlings wants more options within the law.
The proposed amendments sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, would provide new legal language that makes it a third-degree felony for someone over 18 to engage in this type of behavior.
But someone who is 16 or 17 could face a class A misdemeanor. If such acts are done by someone under 16, it would be a class B misdemeanor. The idea is to take into account an individual's age, maturity and level of sophistication, which is done in other legal areas such as deciding whether to certify a juvenile into adult court.
Paul Boyden, executive director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, has been crafting the amendment language.
"This is intended to offer prosecutors a viable charging option for minors who are distributing pornography or other harmful materials over their cell phones," Boyden said."By making the penalty more realistic, the result will be more widespread use of the statute and a practical approach to the problem," Boyden said.
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