Legal Ethics

'Sexting' Cases Put Pa. Prosecutor on ACLU's Litigation List

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A Pennsylvania prosecutor’s aggressive approach to so-called teenage sexting of explicit messages on cell phones has put him on the American Civil Liberties Union’s litigation list.

Siding with three female high school students and their mothers, in a dispute over the appropriate handling of racy photos being transmitted on teenagers’ cell phones, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit today in Scranton, Pa., against District Attorney George Skumanick of Wyoming County, reports the New York Times.

Skumanick, who admittedly offered a plea deal that involved attending a 10-hour class on the perils of pornography and sexual violence to two of the girls, in exchange for not pursuing possible charges of sexual abuse of a minor against them, says he has done nothing wrong, the newspaper writes. The photos at issue showed both girls, from the waist up, at a slumber party several years earlier. Both were wearing bras.

“Frankly, it’s sad to me that their parents don’t realize this is wrong and they should be encouraging them to take the classes,” says the 20-year prosecutor.

But attorney Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania counters: “Prosecutors should not be using a nuclear-weapon-type charge like child pornography against kids who have no criminal intent and are merely doing stupid things,” the Times reports.

The suit asserts violations of the teens’ First and Fourth Amendment rights, contending that they should not be threatened with prosecution for expressing their views.

Also potentially at issue down the road in the case is whether the school district in which the teens are educated is violating students’ rights by looking into the contents of their cell phones and providing information to the prosecutor’s office, the Times says.

Related coverage:

Gadgetwise (New York Times): “Sexting May Place Teens at Legal Risk” “Prosecutor Gets 6-Month Suspension for Showing Teen Sex Photos to Parents”

Updated at 10 p.m. on March 26 to include link to subsequent Gadgetwise post.

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