Congress 'Fixes' Child Porn 'Loophole' With 15-Year Prison Sentences For Teen Sexting

from the if-it's-already-broken,-why-not-make-it-worse? dept

Congress agrees (with who, I don't know): to save our nation's children from the scourge of sexting, we much incarcerate our nation's children. As Elizabeth Nolan Brown reports for Reason, the way to salvation sext-free kids runs through our nation's prison pipelines, where they'll be rehabilitated through the power of life-crippling criminal sentences and accelerated to adulthood via actual sexual assault at the hands of prisoners/guards.

Teens who text each other explicit images could be subject to 15 years in federal prison under a new bill that just passed the House of Representatives. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, has called the measure "deadly and counterproductive."

[...]

Introduced by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) in March, the "Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017" passed the House by an overwhelming majority last week. Only two Republicans—Reps. Justin Amash of Michigan and Thomas Massie of Kentucky—voted against the bill, along with 53 Democrats.

Yes, you read that right. The bill would add mandatory minimums to child pornography production -- even if both participants are minors. Mandatory minimums would also apply to thoughtcrime. Rep. Bobby Scott -- one of the few opponents of the bill -- was the first to point out that this draconian child porn law would criminalize consensual behavior between teenagers. He also pointed out that the bill seeks to punish "solicitation," which takes this past actual production of forbidden images into the realm of the hypothetical.

What's more, "the law explicitly states that the mandatory minimums will apply equally to an attempt or a conspiracy," Scott noted:

That means if a teenager attempts to obtain a photo of sexually explicit conduct by requesting it from his teenage girlfriend, the judge must sentence that teenager to prison for at least 15 years for making such an attempt. If a teenager goads a friend to ask a teenager to take a sexually explicit image of herself, just by asking, he could be guilty of conspiracy or attempt, and the judge must sentence that teenager to at least 15 years in prison.

As Brown details in her thorough report on the bill, the proposed law is supposed to close a "loophole" that prevented some child porn prosecutions. At least that's what its supporters are saying. In reality, the loophole isn't a loophole, but rather a bad decision made by prosecutors.

19-year-old Anthony Palomino-Coronado was accused of molesting his 7-year-old neighbor repeatedly over the course of several months. In investigating the case, police discovered one photo of the abuse that had been taken and subsequently deleted from Palomino-Coronado's phone.

Combined with the victim's testimony, the photo should have guaranteed state police little trouble in trying to prosecute Palomino-Coronado for sexual abuse of a child. But federal prosecutors preempted such a prosecution by deciding to instead try Palomino-Coronado in federal court for producing child pornography.

It was a bad call—the case "could have been brought in state court and the defendant would have been subjected to extremely long, lengthy prison time," Rep. Scott noted during floor debate. But federal law against producing child pornography requires a minor to have been recruited "for the purpose of" producing photo or video. In this case, the court concluded, the long-term pattern of abuse, combined with the fact that only one explicit image was ever taken (and subsequently deleted), meant the perpetrator's purpose was not producing child porn but, rather, his own sexual gratification. If the feds had simply let the state handle the case as one of sexual abuse, Palomino-Coronado would probably be behind bars right now; instead, they overreached with the child porn charge, and now he's free.

To try to make amends for this prosecutorial blunder, the DOJ is pushing to have this terrible new law enacted. Not that there's any lack of supporters for the idea of tossing teens in jail. Sponsor Mike Johnson cited noted legal expert, the apostle Paul.

Johnson, a freshman congressman (and vocal Trump supporter), dismissed opponents' concern that the measure would be used in ways he didn't intend it to be used. "In Scripture, Romans 13 refers to the governing authorities as 'God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer,'" he said in response to their floor concerns. "I, for one, believe we have a moral obligation, as any just government should, to defend the defenseless."

My guess is Johnson's definition of "defenseless" doesn't cover sexting teens -- not if he's using Biblical authority to shore up his shaky legal assertions. Other supporters are equally as naive, claiming federal prosecutors won't use the law to prosecute sexting teens, blithely ignoring the fact that child porn laws have routinely been misused to do exactly that.

This is the road to hell legislators love to travel. And why not? It's routinely re-paved with good intentions and has lanes wide enough that even the most obtuse legislator can travel comfortably. When it comes to the nation's youth, nothing's too good for them. Our nation's lawmakers are ready to grant them them longer minimum sentences and more ways to avail themselves of one of our nation's oldest traditions: doing federal time on trumped-up charges. After all, you can't be for the children unless you're willing to damn the children. For their own good, of course.

Filed Under: criminal justice, doj, mandatory minimums, punishment, sexting


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 6:39am

    Sadly it wouldn't be used against these politicians children of course. The High Court is very forgiving. The Low Court on the other hand... Well, we have very recent history to show how this is going to play.

    Whenever some moron, in power or not, shouts "for the children" our kids die a little bit more metaphorically speaking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:17am

      Re: politicians

      "Whenever some moron, in power..."



      .... so who did you vote for last November ?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:51am

        Re: Re: politicians

        The moron not in power...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:53am

        Re: Re: politicians

        Because clearly Trump wrote this bill. Look, I'm all for criticizing Trump for the things he's done/doing but let's lay the criticism for this travesty squarely at the collective feet of the House Republicans minus representatives Amash & Massie. Law & order politicians have proven themselves perfectly willing to sacrifice our freedoms in exchange for easy "think of the children" political points long before Trump came to town.

        And that was ninja's point until you chose to omit the rest of his sentence in your quote.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 7:24am

    Follow Common Sense Colorado

    Colorado just passed a teen sexting bill that makes it a misdemeanor with a MAXIMUM of 2 years in prison assuming both teens are under 18 with no minimums. It seems like the idea is to have an educational class on why it is wrong, etc, etc, etc. as the most common punishment.

    No sex offender registry or other lifelong hurdles to jump over for a bad decision when you were young...

    Call me crazy, but 'sex offender' reform really needs to happen in this country.

    Peeing outside while drunk? Sex offender.

    Mooning your buddy driving down the road? Sex offender.

    'Statutory Rape' of a 17 year old by an 18 year old even when the relationship had been underway previously? (certain states) Sex offender...

    Good luck getting a career politician throwing himself in with that lot, because they are 'sex offenders'....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 8:49am

      Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

      "Colorado just passed a teen sexting bill that makes it a misdemeanor with a MAXIMUM of 2 years in prison assuming both teens are under 18 with no minimums."


      that is sensible?

      it can still ruin lives. Two fucking kids sending nudies to each other is not a fucking mind breaking problem.

      Society is going fucking nuts, we are killing ourselves over the dumbest fucking shit!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 8:54am

        Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

        It was because literally an entire school worth of kids in a town with only one high school was found to have been texting. Hundreds of kids would have been put on the sex offender register and the whole class would have not completed high school.

        For how dumb canon city can be, they made a smart choice to educate rather than punish.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Paul, 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:40am

          Re: Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

          This just shows that you need numbers on your side, one pic of your naked girl friend and your going to jail. Pics of a naked swim team, half the cheerleaders, and the football team and your going to get off with a warming.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2017 @ 8:21am

          Re: Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

          The smarter choice would have been to do nothing. There's no actual problem here--no evidence that anyone was harmed except by the authorities.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:01am

      Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

      Yeah, "not as bad as other states" can still be terrible. How about consensual activity between minor teenagers isn't punished at all? Have all the educational classes you want.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:10am

        Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

        Yea I know... let the parents spank their kids asses..

        O wait... its better to put them into jail for fucking years on end because spanking their ass is "child abuse"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 12:35pm

          Re: Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

          Of spanking is child abuse, but how about a serious talk about sex, and how to avoid a pregnancy?

          It seems to me that adults haive either forgotten their early sexual experiments, or more lke scared that their kids will take the same risk as they did. They have definitely forgotten how ineffective threats of draconian punishment are at moderating their own behaviours.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Wendy Cockcroft, 6 Jun 2017 @ 2:23am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

            Morality is not about who can be the most puritanical, it's about doing what is best for both the individual and the community. A stern talking-to is sufficient for sexting. What the hell is wrong with US law-makers?

            Cartoonish vengeance is unlikely to resolve the problem.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Paul, 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:38am

        Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

        Its because Kids cant consent. Kids cant consent to sex, they cant consent to photos, they cant consent to being naked in a swimming hole in the back yard.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:09am

          Re: Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

          I don't know about anyone else, but I've had enough of this piece of fucking propaganda that's just serving to expand the police state and ruin lives over silly teen behavior. When I was 16, I was not retarded. I knew quite well who I wanted to see my genitals, and I suspect so did you. We are not talking about 6 year olds here, we are talking about high school students who are drowning in hormones.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 11:30pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

            > When I was 16, I was not retarded. I knew quite well who I wanted to see my genitals, and I suspect so did you.

            No you didn't. The law says so!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Manabi (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:37am

          Re: Re: Re: Follow Common Sense Colorado

          That's not entirely correct. Most states allow for consensual sex among minors within a certain age range (three years is common). So the law recognizes that kids can consent *with other kids*. Just not with adults. Rape can, and is, charged for non-consensual sex between minors, even if they're inside that age range.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    D.C. Pathogen (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:19am

    Why would two teens sexting each other be wrong at all?
    How can you stop the from seeing each other nude in person if they have time to take nude selfies?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:51am

      Re:

      exactly, we need to work on finding a way to stop all the retarded adults running around voting these fucking politicians in!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:24am

    Where did all the quotes come from? Link to the source article would be good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OA (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:39am

    Good intentions?

    I don't think this is careless or well-intentioned law making.

    My guess is that this bill was crafted to satisfy three separate but overlapping motivations:

    1. Aggressive imprisonment through "law and order" zealotry.
    2. The desire to intertwine religious motivated ideology with US law making. The absurd and unnecessary fear of Sharia Law was obvious foreboding.
    3. Power siphoning. Convert strong popular revulsion for pedophilia into a way to attack other freedoms (especially speech). It is almost certainly designed to be a slippery slope.

    OA

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 11:00am

      Re: Good intentions?

      The absurd and unnecessary fear of Sharia Law was obvious foreboding.

      Ah, I see. You're telling me these Christians do not want to fall behind the Muslims, so they're enacting Sharia-law themselves?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 12:39pm

        Re: Re: Good intentions?

        Christian extremism looks much the same as Muslim extremism when it comes to imposing their mortals on other people. It also worth noting that those who would do the imposing always seem to consider Matthias laws do not apply to them, because they are true believers and do not need the rules.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 1:37pm

        Re: Re: Good intentions?

        The more extreme sorts of the Christian persuasion do seem to feel there is some kind of zealotry gap with respect to the extreme sorts of the Muslim persuasion, so they develop a sort of fatwah envy.

        But yeah the sharia that they keep claiming will be or has been imposed, somehow, and which they hate so much, is mostly the same ruleset they want, but with them deciding who is the sinner or heretic.

        This is what authoritarians do, and their best enemies to uphold as an example of why they need even more power and you need less rights are generally their counterparts who drink grape rather than cherry, or some relatively powerless minority which enough people can get on board with not caring about or hating. Best of both worlds is someone you can lump together with the enemy, but who is a minority locally.

        However, i think sharia-panic was simply mentioned as an example. The people who want religious law have always been here. Dominionists are fun. So are the ones who claim that the Establishment Clause doesn't imply separation of state from religiously motivated things.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:07am

    Errrm, why is this under federal jurisdiction?

    Even in the case cited, it was beyond a stretch to make a federal case of it. The federal law relies on there being distribution that crosses state lines, or uses the mail system. Online distribution commonly is assumed to inherently interstate, but that isn't necessarily true. With no distribution, the cited case shouldn't have been in federal court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2017 @ 11:42am

      Re:

      The law has some sham wording about interstate commerce. For example, it applies if:

      "the visual depiction was produced or transmitted using materials that have been mailed, or shipped or transported in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce by any means, including by computer..."

      I doubt you could find a phone or camera that was produced exclusively with materials from one state.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 10:52am

    Sacrifice to Moloch

    There are some truly monstrous child abusers who deserve to be hanged, but they are to be found in our legislatures and prosecutor's offices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    afn29129 (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 11:16am

    Sheila Jackson Lee

    Anyone who does even a little research on just how goofy this Sheila Jackson Lee person really is will then understand why she suggested this absurd law. Headline should of been: Goofball person wants goofball law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    renosablast (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 12:43pm

    "and a vocal Trump supporter"

    And just exactly what does the fact that Johnson is "a vocal Trump supporter" actually have to do with this story? Trying
    to tilt opinions in a certain direction? Please just stick to
    the facts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Doug, 1 Jun 2017 @ 2:21pm

    The Ted Knight Argument

    Sentencing sexting teens to mandatory-minimums reminds me of Judge Smails from Caddyshack:

    "I've sentenced boys younger than you to the gas chamber. Didn't want to do it. I felt I owed it to them."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 1 Jun 2017 @ 3:19pm

    Fraction of American Turd Stains and You

    Congress agrees (with who, I don't know): to save our nation's children from the scourge of sexting, we much incarcerate our nation's children.

    Do not the unalienable Rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution include our nations children?

    Sexting is a form of expression and therefor falls under the definition of free speech.

    Dear congress aren't the nations prisons and jails full enough?

    Does congress really need to destroy the lives of teenagers for sexting?

    Who elected these know-nothing fraction of American turd stains?

    What a disgrace the nation burns (eg unending wars, rigged economy) and all congress can do is fiddle.

    Now that's leadership.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 5:24pm

    The actual legal loophole is that people too stupid to pour piss out of a boot are allowed to become highly placed in our legal system.

    There's a simple test; it should be part of the hiring requirement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    AC720 (profile), 1 Jun 2017 @ 9:16pm

    The old joke about "acts" in DC

    There is an old joke about any sort of "act" in DC, such as this one called "Protecting Against Child Exploitation Act of 2017" almost always actually mean the opposite of, or cause consequences equivalent to the opposite of whatever the act is called.

    And it's criminilizing something rather than controlling for it. Kids are going to use their phones and other things to sext. So NOW we're just going to lock up a LOT of them. Great. With so many convicted sex offenders and felons, we're going to cure the future unemployment numbers by making sure a whole ton of people can't get work of any kind anyway, so they won't count as unemployed and also will be denied benefits. Awesome.

    Glad I don't have kids and I'll probably be dead before what's left of the USA burns down. Y'all can have the ashes. You win.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2017 @ 1:31pm

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    With all these new laws they are making, this $3/month service by Metro could save from a long jail sentence for things you might not know are there. If you travel to either Britain, Canada, or the USA, and have Metro as your carrier, I recommend getting this service, so you can wipe your phone if it is ever confiscated, without having to tie it to a Google account.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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