Sexting Teens Sentenced To A Year Without Cellphones And All The Warrantless Searches They Can Be Subjected To

from the another-triumph-of-the-justice-system! dept

Earlier this month, we discussed (or rather, ridiculed) a North Carolina’s law enforcement agency’s stupid and bizarre prosecution of two teens who consensually sent explicit photos to each other. There was the first (and most familiar) layer of stupidity: the charging of both with distributing explicit material to minors (both teens were 16 at the time of the sexting). Then there was the unexpected stupidity: the charging of both for sexually exploiting themselves. This gained an additional layer of stupidity when the law treated the teens as both minors (being exploited) and adults (doing the exploiting) when processing them.

Most of the charges centered on photos taken of the teens by themselves. These nude pictures of themselves — possessed by themselves — were somehow criminal acts. The state’s laws have ensured no teen can take/possess a naked photo of themselves without risking being prosecuted as a sex offender, even if they never distribute the photos.

The female half of the sexting duo accepted a plea bargain back in July. It now appears the male participant has done the same. The two plea agreements are substantially similar according to WRAL, which means both teens have been screwed by a “justice” system seemingly obsessed with punishing consensual (and normal) teen behavior — statutory contortions be damned.

The terms of the plea agreements are extremely onerous, considering the acts were consensual and there was no age discrepancy between the participants. What the teens have agreed to sounds not too different than what’s routinely handed to other sex offenders — except that these teens molested no children, possessed no child porn and performed no acts of sexual violence. Comega Copening, the other participant in this heinous two-person sexting ring will be treated as a criminal not worthy of his own phone for the next 365 days. AND THAT’S NOT ALL…

Judge April Smith, tell him what he’s won!

[One] year of probation. During that year… Copening must stay in school, take a class on making good decisions, complete 30 hours of community service, not use or possess alcohol or illegal drugs, not possess a cellphone and must submit to warrantless searches.

The same terms apparently apply to Brianna Denson’s plea bargain as well — as does all the attendant ridiculousness of treating two consenting teens of the same age as child pornographers of each other… and of themselves.

The remaining charge — the one Denson and Copening have been sentenced for — is no less ridiculous than the dismissed charges of sexually exploiting themselves. What remains are charges for “disseminating harmful material to minors,” which presumes the dissemination itself was harmful, even if it was welcomed and reciprocated.

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Comments on “Sexting Teens Sentenced To A Year Without Cellphones And All The Warrantless Searches They Can Be Subjected To”

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80 Comments
teknosapien (profile) says:

Case of justice gone wild?

Not sure how this helps the younger generation learn and become more stable a human, if anything it puts a stigma on them from their peers and local communities.

How did we get from the hippie generation of love and freedom to the oppression of our youth in such a short amount of time?

One thing for sure when the pendulum swings back it’s probably not going to be pretty

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Case of justice gone wild?

How did we get from the hippie generation of love and freedom to the oppression of our youth in such a short amount of time?

Well, the part where the hippies’ ideals imploded in the face of reality and most of them ended up growing up and becoming yuppies obsessed with materialism, the generation that’s screwed up this country (and a good deal of the rest of the world) just in time for them to start retiring and living off the backs of their kids since they neglected to properly save for retirement, leaving all the messes they created for us to clean up, probably had something to do with it…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Can I be as stupidly ridiculously idotic as Mason?

Actually, it’s the result of your generation that has no idea of hard work and only thinks of its own entitlement that is the cause of all our problems.

/sarc

The problem is not simple as to why we have these particular problems today nor is it wise to blame any one group for them. Each generation and each group in those generations bears responsibility for its actions and decisions. I look at your responses to various articles and comments and I see someone who occasionally has a clue and occasionally has no clue. We are all in that boat at some time.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

So both have been bullied into accepting a plea bargain, which is a perversion of justice and due process.

Have you watched any TV shows like “Law & Order”?
If the real prosecutor is anything like the ones on the TV shows, then these kids were probably threatened with a jury trial where there would be the very real possibility of them going to jail for 20 years and being put on the sexual offender registry. Okay, sure, this probably won’t happen, but why take the chance when they can get a punishment without jail time and without being put on the registry?

Or maybe there was financial incentive: maybe the prosecutor said it would cost another $20,000 (or more) to take this case to trial and the families just wanted to be done with it.

Arioch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Just a minute

You say
Have you watched any TV shows like “Law & Order”?
If the real prosecutor is anything like the ones on the TV shows, then these kids were probably threatened with a jury trial where there would be the very real possibility of them going to jail for 20 years and being put on the sexual offender registry. Okay, sure, this probably won’t happen, but why take the chance when they can get a punishment without jail time and without being put on the registry?

Um.. Your total legal experience is based on the fantasy of TV programmes?

I admire your stupidity.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is what we asked for...

Stupid teens that were not educated on their rights by the education system and now they get screwed for the failures of the adults!
Stupid parents that failed to protect their children, because they could not be bothered to learn how to be responsible citizens themselves and let their children get railroaded.
Whatever Lawyer in this case on their side pretty much didn’t do a fucking damn thing for his own clients. What a fucking laundry list of scumbags in this case, Judge included! Especially for the Prosecutor and law enforcement just destroying lives every fucking chance they get.

Pretty sure a Jury would have completely acquitted these teens, but the DA probably scared them shitless with all of the crap they would have to face if they took it to jury.

David says:

Re: This is what we asked for...

Pretty sure a Jury would have completely acquitted these teens, but the DA probably scared them shitless with all of the crap they would have to face if they took it to jury.

We’re still in Texas. The folks in the jury tend to be downstream in the distribution of common sense and intelligence from those manning schoolboards and the people writing the laws, and those are already completely bonkers.

Dependabe jury insanity is the reason almost all cases filed by patent trolls are filed in East Texas.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This is what we asked for...

You would be right in the context of how ignorant juries are when it comes to patent and copyright, but this situation is a bit different from that in such a way that a comparison is pointless on its face.

Most people, even never having seeing technology, would not find teens guilty of this shit.

McFortner (profile) says:

The part you are forgetting is that the victims are also the perpetrators. Just because you did something that involves yourself that’s illegal does not make it any more illegal. Why is it OK for a teen to do it to themselves but put an adult in jail when they are a part of the crime?

And the warrentless searches are also know as PROBATION. Look it up. If you are on parole/probation, your Parole Officer can come and search you anytime for any (or no) reason. So what’s the outrage here?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Stealing is illegal, does that mean I can be charged with a crime if I steal from myself?

Assault is illegal, does that mean I can be charged with it if I start punching myself?

You don’t protect the victim, by punishing the perpetrator, when they are the same person.

In addition, as the AC above noted, the law was treating them as both kids and adults, at the same time, with the worst of both. They were adults with regards to having the photos, and children with regards to being in the photos.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

We are talking about mutual crimes here, not crimes on yourself.

Now, here’s the million-dollar question:

‘Mutual crimes’ against who? Who committed the crime, and more importantly who was the victim? Who was being protected thanks to the law, and who was being punished?

Something to keep in mind, is that at the time the pictures were taken both of them were past the age of consent in the area that they were in, which meant that they could have been having as much actual sex as possible and the legal system wouldn’t have batted an eye(the parents might have though), yet taking pictures of themselves and sharing said pictures with each other is treated as a terrible crime?

And again, I will repeat this because of how insanely stupid it is: They were being treated both as kids, and adults, at the same time, based upon which classification would screw them over the most at any given moment. Kids with regards to being in the photos, adults with regards to having/taking/sharing the photos. That is beyond absurd, and highlights just how lousy the law was written and/or applied.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As for the ability to make decisions, their chosen method of exploring their sexuality, via photos, should be safer than doing it in person, with the risk of pregnancy. Exchanging photos was only a bad decision because of the way authority in the guise of the law has come down on them.
The supposed adults in this affair show worse decision making skills that the teenagers, and all the harm to the teenagers has been done by supposed adults deciding to enforce the law.
.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Yes, you can be charged with theft if you discover
> an item that was stolen from you and you break
> into the house of the person in possession of it now.

Umm… no. You can’t be legally liable for stealing something that rightfully belongs to you.

If you break into a home to get it back, you can be charged with breaking and entering, and trespass, but not theft of the item involved, since it’s legally yours to begin with.

JMT says:

Re: Re:

“The part you are forgetting is that the victims are also the perpetrators.”

Forgetting? That fact has been mentioned many times, because it’s the fact that makes this all so stupid. How exactly can you be both victim and perpetrator?

“Why is it OK for a teen to do it to themselves but put an adult in jail when they are a part of the crime?”

Are you serious?! The whole point of these laws is to prevent adults from abusing and/or exploiting minors. Two consenting teens of the same age swapping pics between themselves is not abuse or exploitation.

What is it exactly that you think deserves punishment here? Are you trying to disguise a moral judgement as a legal one?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d add – maybe not deliberately ignored as an act of public disobedience, but ignored because it makes no sense for the act to be illegal. I know, ignorance of the law is no excuse, blah, blah, but if I do something where it would make no sense for it to be illegal, I’m not going to check on the legality of that action before doing it. I certainly wouldn’t expect something done privately with my consensual partner to be met with prosecution.

The other thing to note is how utterly counter to the intent of the law this whole thing is. The intent of the law is clearly to protect minors from harm. Yet, in this case, the only harm done is by application of the law. No harm would have occurred if no charges had been brought.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Nonsense

The part you are forgetting is that the victims
> are also the perpetrators.

Which should be a huge clue how fucked up the whole thing is in the first place from a legal perspective.

The idea of charging the victim of a crime for the crime itself is legally absurd, yet here we are.

> Just because you did something that involves yourself
> that’s illegal does not make it any more illegal.

So you’d be in favor of charging a kid who was caught masturbating with felony sexual assault on a minor?

Or a kid you looks at herself naked in the mirror with felony voyeurism?

Tom says:

I fail to see a problem

“[One] year of probation. During that year… Copening must stay in school, take a class on making good decisions, complete 30 hours of community service, not use or possess alcohol or illegal drugs, not possess a cellphone and must submit to warrantless searches.”

I fail to see the problem with the punishment. What part of staying in school, not doing drugs or alcohol,learning not to make stupid decisions, or losing the use of a cellphone for a year is unjust? As for warrantless searches, the parents ought to be doing that to begin with. Can you imagine the embarrassment if their friends got hold of those pix? Those two got lucky. In some districts, they both would have ended up on the sexual predator registry, and then where would they be? If I was their father, even if the court let them off scott-free, *I* would have imposed those very same restrictions.

David says:

Re: Re: I fail to see a problem

They didn’t receive a judgment but accepted a plea deal. No crime necessary for that. Proceeding to a judgment might have put them into enough debt that they would never had a chance to get into college. Having police grope you for a year whenever they feel like it and harrass you for a few more might have been the more affordable deal.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I fail to see a problem

They didn’t receive a judgment but accepted a plea
> deal. No crime necessary for that.

Ummm.. no. A crime actually is necessary for a plea bargain to be offered, because a person has to be charged in the first place before the court can entertain a plea.

A conviction isn’t necessary, but there has to be a crime or the whole process wouldn’t be set in motion to begin with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I fail to see a problem

but there has to be a crime

Wrong, their has to be a prima facie evidence that a crime has been committed. The whole point of a trial is to determine whether a crime has been committed. The pressure that a prosecutor can bring on someone to get them to agree to a plea bargain means that they are closer to being vigilantes than upholders of the law..

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I fail to see a problem

The whole point of a trial is to determine whether
> a crime has been committed.

Nope. The point of the trial is to determine who committed the crime. By the time the trial starts, it’s a foregone conclusion that a crime was committed by someone. The jury’s task is to determine whether it was the defendant or not.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 I fail to see a problem

Wrong, their has to be a prima facie evidence that a crime has been committed.

You’re drawing a distinction between “a crime was committed” and “there is prima facie evidence that a crime was committed”? On a non-lawyer oriented blog, there’s not much difference between those.

According to Wikipedia, ‘[Brady] laid down the following conditions for a plea to be valid:

Defendant must be “fully aware of the direct consequences, including the actual value of any commitments made to him”
Plea must not be “induced by threats (or promises to discontinue improper harassment), misrepresentation (including unfulfilled or unfulfillable promises), or perhaps by promises that are by their nature improper as having no proper relationship to the prosecutor’s business (e. g. bribes)”
Pleas entered would not become invalid later merely due to a wish to reconsider the judgment which led to them, or better information about the Defendant’s or the State’s case, or the legal position.
Plea bargaining “is no more foolproof than full trials to the court or to the jury. Accordingly, we take great precautions against unsound results. […] We would have serious doubts about this case if the encouragement of guilty pleas by offers of leniency substantially increased the likelihood that defendants, advised by competent counsel, would falsely condemn themselves. But our view is to the contrary and is based on our expectations that courts will satisfy themselves that pleas of guilty are voluntarily and intelligently made by competent defendants with adequate advice of counsel and that there is nothing to question the accuracy and reliability of the defendants’ admissions”.
The ruling in Brady does not discuss “situation[s] where the prosecutor or judge, or both, deliberately employ their charging and sentencing powers to induce a particular defendant to tender a plea of guilty. In Brady’s case there is no claim that the prosecutor threatened prosecution on a charge not justified by the evidence or that the trial judge threatened Brady with a harsher sentence if convicted after trial in order to induce him to plead guilty.”‘

Nothing about evidence of a crime.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: I fail to see a problem

“What part of staying in school, not doing drugs or alcohol,learning not to make stupid decisions, or losing the use of a cellphone for a year is unjust?”

The part where a court is doing it as a plea bargain.

“If I was their father”

If it was their fathers doing this, there would not be a problem. Instead, a court is doing it, as a compromise to something that would have branded both teenagers as child sex offenders for the rest of their lives.

Hopefully you can see the difference.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: I fail to see a problem

As for warrantless searches, the parents ought to
> be doing that to begin with.

I’m curious how this “warrantless search” condition actually applies with minors. The kids might give up their 4th Amendment rights as a condition of probation, but the parents don’t, and neither do any other kids living in the same house, so when the probation officer shows up, he can’t really search the whole house– just the one kid’s room who is on probation.

Makes skirting the rules real easy. Just hide anything you don’t want the probation officer to find in your brother’s or sister’s room, and keep yours squeaky clean.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I fail to see a problem

The problem is that this is a mockery of justice from start to finish. For starters, it’s not illegal for kids to look at themselves naked, or touch themselves sexually. They see themselves naked every day when they bath, and they can masturbate in the privacy of their bedroom or shower as much as they have time for. Furthermore, the age of consent in North Carolina is 16. These two 16 year old kids can legally fuck each other’s brains out. The worst their parents can do to them for it is ground their own kid. The law can’t lay a finger on them. Even if the girl got pregnant, the worst the law could do is force the boy to pay child support if the girl kept the kid and he didn’t want to provide the appropriate support.

Yet because the laws written to protect kids from pedophiles, pornographers, and child prostitution define minors as anyone under the age of 18, the moment one of these legally sexually active 16 year olds takes a picture of themselves, they’re suddenly “victimizing” themselves, and sending it to another legally sexually active 16 year old in a mutual exchange is “providing harmful material to minors”. And so the laws written to protect these kids from adults are instead used by adults to victimize them. To publicly name and shame them, and threaten them with all the punishments reserved for for child pornographers and other pedophiles. The kids only recourse from this is either to wage an expensive battle against not only the charges, but the law itself in court as they do indeed violate the letter of it, and if they fail likely be branded for life as a sex offender; or to accept a humiliating plea agreement, and plead “guilty” to the lesser charge of distributing harmful material to minors in exchange for having the more serious charges of “taking pictures of themselves” dropped, and the potential to clear their record after a year of “probation”.

Unsurprisingly they took the path of least expense and risk. Somehow this is considered the “lenient” path, as opposed to, you know, not charging kids for taking pictures of themselves. But no, apparently some prosecutor is more interested in racking up more “wins” and showing how “moral” they are by going after pornography, than they are interested in the good of a couple kids who should have just been handed over to their parents.

In short, the whole thing is fucked up from start to finish.

Anonymous Coward says:

“no teen can take/possess a naked photo of themselves”

So only their parents and any other adult can possess copies of the teen’s naked baby pictures? If the teen looks at the naked baby pics should their parents go to jail for corrupting minors? Should the parents go to jail if the teen has access to such a pic in a photo album? And somehow at age 18 (as the clock strikes) they are suddenly allowed to look at themselves in photos taken when they were 3 months old? Or can they look at any age but not touch or possess copies of such photos?

Anonymous Coward says:

Artists?

“These nude pictures of themselves — possessed by themselves — were somehow criminal acts. The state’s laws have ensured no teen can take/possess a naked photo of themselves without risking being prosecuted as a sex offender, even if they never distribute the photos. “

So what I cannot help wondering. Have their been ‘child’ prodigy artists (the kind who paint and draw) who have drawn or painted images of themselves? Even modestly ‘unclothed’.

(The idea of calling a person 17 yrs and 11 months old a child is somewhat perturbing, my kids would have had a lot to say about that concept).

So all those art students? What if a 17 yr 11 month old does a life study of a naked person? Are they also creating and potentially disseminating material harmful to minors? And isn’t art, like beauty, subjective and in the eye of the beholder? If a 17yr 11 month old person looks at a representation of, or at a real, nekkid person (skinny dipping?) or engages in consensual sex without clothes (I feel impelled to specify this because I have the idea that some might say it’s okay for persons over the age of consent to have sex as long as their eyeballs never perceive an image of the other party(parties)) – are they not also the perpetrator and victim of some crime – does the source of the image they see matter? A photo is not ok but a painting or a real person is ok? Light rays are light rays.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s perfectly OK for teens above the age of consent to fuck and even fuck naked, heck they could have a teen orgy gangbang. Perfectly legal to do that and watch themselves doing that.

But it’s illegal for them to take a picture of their own naked body.

What sort of twisted logic was used to make fucking OK but pictures of naked people illegal?

Sorry for the profanity but I feel it was necessary to point out the absurdity of this illogical situation.

Anonymous Coward says:

When everyone is a criminal...

Just what percentage of the population have to be considered guilty of a crime before nobody worries about that action being a crime anymore. Already people are starting to soften their stance against sex offenders in their neighborhoods because it seems like just about everyone knows someone who has been ruined for something minor. Now these kids can be allowed to have sex, but they cant take a photo or they are a criminal. How stupid. I no longer care what anyone does in their lives anymore.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“must submit to warrantless searches.”

> How is that even legal ,a judge can not in a
> ruling trump the Constitution , or so I thought.

It’s legal because a person can waive their 4th Amendment rights and consent to searches by the government.

When it comes to probation and parole, the court is making the defendant an offer: “We’ll let you out early in exchange for your agreement to waive your 4th Amendment right to be free of warrantless searches. If you decline to give consent to such searches, you’re free to do so, but you’ll have to serve your full sentence.”

Most people want to get out of jail enough (or avoid going to jail in the first place) that they agree to the conditions.

GEMont (profile) says:

Religion: Morality, mortality, moronity. Good Gold God.

Sounds like the Christian Right is sending a message.

The standard message actually.

Its not what you do that counts, but what others think you do.

Appearance is all.

When you can be seen or heard, act upright and proper and loudly profess your pious morality, while denigrating all who profess less or none, even louder.

Save all your perverse and criminal activities for those times when the doors are locked, the curtains are drawn, and nobody is watching or listening, except you and your sex-target – whatever that may be – a child, a goat, a cantaloupe.

Acts that other people cannot witness, God will not know about, and you will still get your reward of a heaven bound afterlife, as long as you continue to faithfully shill for the cause and maintain the happy, smiley, Faith facade, when in public.

Or become Roman Catholic and simply confess regularly. No sin is too big for instant forgiveness through confession.
Ask the MAFIA.

Ah religion. Without it, we might actually become responsible adults. I’m not holding my breathe for that one.

Favorite line from a movie, spoken by M.L. Jackson;

“God is an imaginary friend for adults.”

nuff sed

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Religion: Morality, mortality, moronity. Good Gold God.

Silly christian. If I took every opportunity to bash christians, every post I write would contain some form of christian bash.

Since that is obviously untrue, that makes you an obvious liar, and thus, very probably a card-carrying christian as well.

Oh dear! I bashed christianity again!! 🙂

What do you care? When Jesus comes back with his sword in hand, to take all you true believers to heaven, I, and all those like me, will be left behind with all the evils that your God can dream up, to punish us for unbelieving, until we are all tortured, tormented and torn to death. Remember.

PS – any religion whose adherents pray for the end of the world and the death of all humanity through torture and torment, just so the “true believers” can collect their reward in heaven for pushing The Book, and say “I told ye so”, deserves a far worse fate than my mere occasional bashing could ever deliver.

But just for the record, I find all religions to be equally childish, detrimental and silly, and I think religion as a concept, is the reason that humanity still can’t get its shit together, and because of this brain-dead global desire to keep the fear of death at bay by having an invisible friend who will save us from death if we wear pink pajamas to bed every night, jump up and down on fridays for an hour, eat brown bread and orange juice every morning, or say the alphabet backwards twice a day while balancing on one foot, I doubt we ever will get our collective shit together.

And the reason I brought up christianity at all, was due to the fact that the adults in this case, were all aware of the facts, but wanted to punish these two children harshly because they were not doing the dirty sex thing behind the barn, or in the back seat of a car, the way the adults had to do it, but were doing it where others could watch!!!

The adults decided these children needed to be taught a lesson and hopefully other children would see the punishment and learn the lesson as well – and the lesson is;

When in public wear a facade of decency and save your perversions for behind closed doors.

What could be more christian that that?

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