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“Sexting" and the Distribution of Child Pornography


“Sexting” is the exchange of sexually explicit text messages, photographs, or videos of yourself or someone else. Sexting is most commonly done via a cell phone, but it can also be accomplished using a computer or any other electronic device. Some apps even allow them to send images to multiple people at once, and these apps often give users a false sense of safety because they believe the images will disappear after being viewed.

As more and more people carry and use cell phones, the popularity of sexting has increased. Many, especially teenagers, believe sexting is harmless. Others feel pressured to do it by other people in their peer group. Even though teens may innocently engage in sexting, sending or receiving sexually explicit text messages, photos, or videos can have very serious consequences. 

North Dakota Sexting Laws

Before 2011, North Dakota classified many sexting cases as felonies. Teens who were convicted of sexting crimes faced serious juvenile court consequences.  If their cases were transferred to adult court, they potentially faced prison sentences.  Under either circumstance, they were often required to register as sex offenders. However, in 2011, North Dakota passed laws that made the creation, distribution, or possession of sexually explicit images a misdemeanor, and people convicted of sexting are no longer required to register as sex offenders.

Nonetheless, a person convicted of distributing sexually explicit images of a minor can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 360 days in jail and a fine of up to $3,000. Even though teens will no longer be registered as sex offenders for sexting, the penalties are extremely serious.

Minnesota Sexting Laws

Minnesota does not have specific laws that address sexting, but the state has laws that encompass some related crimes that could be charged instead. A person who sends or receives sexually explicit images of a minor can be charged under the state’s child pornography laws, which vary depending on whether it is possession or distribution of the sexually explicit images.

Possession of sexually explicit images of children carries a fine of up to $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison. Distribution of sexually explicit images involving a minor is punishable by up to 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Adult Sexting

It is not illegal for adults to share sexually explicit images of other consenting adults. For example, a couple who is engaged in a romantic relationship is free to share sexually explicit images with one another. However, an adult who shares sexually explicit images of another adult without that person’s consent, or who shares images that were created when the other person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, can be charged with distributing intimate images without consent, a Class A misdemeanor. So, if that same couple shared images with each other, and then one of them shared the other’s images with friends or the internet, they could potentially face charges.  It also is an open question whether a person could be charged in North Dakota for distributing consensual sexually explicit images after a relationship has ended. 

Defenses to Sexting Charges

One of the most effective defenses to a charge of distributing sexually explicit images is consent. If both parties were adults and consented to sharing sexually explicit images, there can be no criminal liability. However, age is a major factor in these charges, so if an adult shares sexually explicit images of a minor, the adult can and will likely face charges.

If the defendant had a good faith belief that the person appearing in the images in their possession was over the age of 18, they may have a defense. This is a possible defense if the person appearing in the images was actually 15 years of age or older, and there was a valid reason for the defendant to believe that person was at least 18 years old.

Children charged with sexting crimes may be charged with a misdemeanor in juvenile court. With the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney, they may be able to have the charges dismissed and receive a warning, as long as the offense does not happen again.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for a Sexting Charge?

Even if they are classified as a misdemeanor or a juvenile charge, sexting charges are still very serious and can have lifelong consequences. An experienced criminal defense attorney can work to have the case dismissed or negotiate a favorable plea arrangement that will have a minimal effect on a person’s future.

Adults who are charged with sending or receiving sexually explicit images of children or with sending sexually explicit images to children, face serious penalties. These penalties can include lifelong registration as a sex offender, as well as significant fines and jail time.

At Fremstad Law, our sex crimes defense attorneys represent people who have been charged with sex crimes in state or federal court. Regardless of the specific allegations, our lawyers will independently investigate the charges and challenge the evidence and how it was obtained.

If you or someone you love has been charged with a sex crime in North Dakota or Minnesota, Fremstad Law can help.

Learn more about our sex crimes defense practice, meet criminal defense attorney Nick Thornton, and contact us today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your situation and how we can help. 


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