Experts have condemned the decision of the courts in North Carolina, to prosecute a 17-year-old boy for possessing naked photos of himself.
The teenager from North Carolina was prosecuted for having naked pictures of himself…. on his own mobile phone.
The teen who was 16 when the photos were discovered, had to strike a plea deal to avoid potentially going to jail and being registered as a sex offender.
The Guardian reports:
Experts condemned the case as ludicrous. The boy was, however, punished by the courts, and had to agree to be subject to warrantless searches by law enforcement for a year, in addition to other penalties.
The young man was also named in the media and suffered a suspension as quarterback of his high school football team while the case was being resolved.
Cormega Copening, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was prosecuted as an adult under federal child pornography felony laws, for sexually exploiting a minor. The minor was himself.
“It’s dysfunctional to be charged with possession of your own image,” said Justin Patchin, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin and co-founder of the research website cyberbullying.org.
Copening was charged with four counts of making and possessing images of himself and one count of possessing a naked image of his 16-year-old girlfriend.
His girlfriend, Brianna Denson, took a plea deal after being prosecuted on similar charges for having naked, suggestive pictures of herself on her cellphone.
While the pictures were technically illegal, actual sex would not be – the age of consent for sexual intercourse in North Carolina is 16.
The pictures were discovered on Copening’s phone when authorities were investigating a wider problem of sexual images allegedly being shared at school without the permission of the subjects involved. Copening turned out not to be involved in that case.
He was prosecuted for having his own and his girlfriend’s image, despite them not having been shared further.
Copening and Denson’s court cases were ostensibly about “sexting” – the sending of sexually explicit material by text message – but the main charges related to them making and keeping their own images.
In most states, these crimes are technically on the books but are not typically used to prosecute similarly aged teenage lovers under 18 who have shared images only with each other consensually, Patchin said.
Patchin said he and other experts in the field had discussed this case and had heard of “zero examples” of under-18s being charged for having their own naked selfie in their phone.
“Kids should not be charged for that,” he said. “And you don’t want kids to be sending such pictures to their significant others, but I don’t think it should be a criminal offense where there is no victim.”
The legal bind came because the two were over 16 and so could be charged as adults in North Carolina, as is common with some felonies – but the crimes they were being charged with related to laws against sexually exploiting minors.
Each was therefore simultaneously the adult perpetrator who is considered a predator and the minor victim who needs protecting by the law.
“It’s ludicrous,” said Fred Lane, a computer security and privacy expert and author of the book Cybertraps for Educators, based in New York. “It’s crazy. It’s an overreach.