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Sexting charges against Pittsburgh teens spark outcry

A 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl, both from the Pittsburgh area, are facing adult charges of transmission of sexually explicit images after the girl's mother found a topless self-portrait on the girl's cellphone. The criminal charges against the young teens are being criticized by some observers as a misuse of Pennsylvania law, and could trigger a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Authorities in Greensburg say that the boy asked the girl to send him a topless photo of herself sometime in autumn 2012. The girl took the photo on a cellphone and sent it to the boy's phone. The boy later deleted the photo but the girl's mother discovered a copy on the girl's phone. Police seized the boy's phone and allegedly determined that the picture had been on the device's hard drive.

The teens were not charged with child pornography, but prosecutors still overreached by charging them with sexting, according to the legal director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU. He said that neither child committed a crime, because the girl's taking of the photo is protected by the First Amendment and the boy did not share the photo with anyone else. The ACLU is considering a lawsuit against the Westmoreland County District Attorney over the decision to pursue charges.

Sexting, or sending sexually explicit or suggestive photographs by text message, has been a big topic in Pennsylvania. A new law creates a tiered system for prosecuting cases of sexting. It empowers prosecutors to charge teens even when the transmission was consensual and private. The ACLU says the new law likely led to the criminal charges in this case.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune Review, "ACLU may sue over Greensburg teens' 'sexting' charges," Bob Stiles, Jan. 7, 2013

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