Why the cops even had access to these photos remains a mystery, but the conclusion they came to is the pure, uncut stupid we've come to expect when laws are bent to "fit" the "problem" of consensual behavior. Reason's Robby Soave leads off with a straightforward and seemingly-damning recap of the situation.
A North Carolina 17-year-old caught in a sexting scandal faces charges of sexually exploiting a minor that could land him in jail for up to 10 years, since the law considers him an adult.
Could be a problem. How young was the victim?
Fayetteville, North Carolina, cops have charged 17-year-old Cormega Copening with sexual exploitation of a minor—his girlfriend, who is the same age—because the couple sent each other nude photos of themselves during their relationship.
They were both 16 when the alleged sexting took place. Both will be 18 in a year, which would make any sexting entirely legal. Because the state's consent laws consider anyone 16 and under a minor but allows minors 16 or over
to be charged as adults in certain circumstances, Copening (and his girlfriend) could have ended up in a Kafka-esque legal nightmare.
North Carolina is one of two states in the country (the other is progressive New York) that considers 16 to be the age of adulthood for criminal purposes. This mean, of course, that Copening can be tried as an adult for exploiting a minor—himself.
Indeed, these were the charges first brought against Copening and his girlfriend
-- both of whom are the same age.
Copening faces two counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and three counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.
Denson had faced one count of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor -- said the victim being herself.
In both cases, the teens were charged with exploiting each other… and themselves. Once again, the law becomes a drooling idiot when it butts up against something it was never written to address.
The charges have been modified and they're now only slightly less
An earlier story said Cormega Copening was charged with exploitation of a minor for texting photos of his genitals. He was charged making photos of himself and for possessing these photos, plus possessing a photo he received from Denson.
Not much better. Copening is being charged with being his own child pornographer. Denson's charges seem to be a bit lighter.
An earlier version of this article said Brianna Denson still faces two felony charges of sexual exploitation of a minor. Those charges were dropped on July 21 when Denson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and started a year of probation. That misdemeanor charge will be dismissed next year if she complies with her punishment.
The Fayetteville Observer doesn't state what the misdemeanor charge is, but it's apparently linked to the consensual behavior the state insists on prosecuting as the self-generation of minor-exploiting photography.
Copening, however, is still being charged with unlawfully possessing photos of himself. Apparently, Copening has no possessory interest in himself
until the state cuts him loose as an "adult" at age 18.
The implication is clear: Copening does not own himself, from the standpoint of the law, and is not free to keep sexually-provocative pictures, even if they depict his own body.
To add to the fucked-upness of it all, the Fayetteville Observer published the names of two minors who were accused of criminal activity, something most publications don't
do. It pointed out (using the severely twisted logic of the situation) that it always publishes the names of adults
charged with felonies. The underlying laws -- as badly mangled as they are -- back up the paper's editorial decision. Both teens are considered adults under these statutes. But the exploitation charges also consider the two teens to be "minors," because the alleged photos were taken when they were sixteen. Most publications have a policy of protecting the identity of minors who are victims of crimes. As Robby Soave points out, according to the charges, the two teens are also victims
of sexual exploitation, which normally would be enough to keep their names out of the papers.
Beyond all of this, we have to ask how
the officers found these photos in the first place. The agency involved has refused to comment, but the Fayetteville Observer notes Copening is facing a misdemeanor property damage charge from August 22nd. No warrant was issued for the search and the detective (the charging
detective, mind you) wrote in his report that pics were only sent between Copening and his girlfriend and recommended releasing him to his parents. And yet, the charges weren't dropped and Copening's court date has twice been reset.
On top of all of this, if the charges against Copening stick, he'll be required to register as a sex offender -- (mostly) for possessing photos of his own body.
There is nothing about this case that isn't tragically stupid. At worst, the officers should have considered the context, the consensual nature and the lack of age discrepancy and did what the charging detective recommended -- sending the teens home to their parents. If any discipline was needed for these actions, it's well within the remand of their respective legal guardians, not the state that has decided people of a certain age aren't allowed to own any part of themselves until the government says its OK.