Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia released a letter it sent to members of the Virginia State Crime Commission recommending against any legislation to criminalize teenage sexting. Any such legislation would raise serious constitutional concerns and also result in feeding many more Virginia teens into the school-to-prison pipeline. The Crime Commission will meet on December 2, 2014, to determine its recommendations for the 2015 General Assembly Session. The letter urges members of the Crime Commission not to recommend any legislation that would criminalize children.
“Laws against the production and distribution of child pornography exist to protect children from abuse and exploitation by adults,” stated ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “Issues of sexting should be addressed by parents and educators, not prosecutors and judges.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized the fundamental right of parents to raise children without unnecessary intrusion by the state, and children have their own right to free expression under the First Amendment.
The creation of a new sexting offense aimed specifically at juveniles is also unlikely to have the deterrent effect on teenage behavior that legislators hope it will.
“Numerous adolescent development experts and the U.S. Supreme Court have acknowledged that children are less mature and responsible than adults because of their lack of experience and perspective,” continued Gastañaga. “It is that lack of maturity that makes them more vulnerable to peer pressure and why a solution to this problem lies in our classrooms and living rooms, not in our courtrooms.”
The detailed letter urges the Crime Commission not to create a new sexting misdemeanor offense in the Commonwealth.
“Such a crime would infringe on constitutional rights, fail to correct undesired behavior, and pull resources away from more important public goals,” concluded Gastañaga.