How is sexting between teens treated under Colorado law?

Since Colorado law doesn’t allow teens to consent to sexting, they may face serious felony charges for creating, sharing or receiving explicit content.

The potential legal consequences of sexting received widespread attention in Greeley last November, when news broke that over 100 students at a Colorado high school had exchanged sexually explicit texts. Many people were surprised to learn that the students in this case could have faced felony sex crime charges. The district attorney ultimately chose not to move forward with these charges, according to CNN. Still, this incident underscores why it is important for teenagers and their families to understand the state's current laws on teen sexting.

Felony consequences

The possession of sexually exploitative content involving a child under the age of 18 is considered a felony in Colorado, according to The New York Post, and this applies to cases of sexting. Minors who willingly create or share sexually explicit materials are technically both victims and offenders under the state's current laws. As a result, they may face the following consequences:

  • 12 to 18 months in prison for possessing these images, which is a Class 6 felony
  • Two to six years of incarceration for the possession of at least 20 of these images or one video, which is a Class 4 felony
  • Four to 12 years of imprisonment for creating or sharing explicit content that features a minor, which is a Class 3 felony

Teenagers convicted of any of these offenses may even be required to register as sex offenders. This may result in lingering adverse effects even after a teen has completed other aspects of his or her sentence.

No consensual defense

Since the age of consent in Colorado is 17 or, in some cases, even younger, many people may think consent provides a valid defense against felony charges related to sexting. However, as NBC News explains, state law holds that minors under age 18 cannot give consent to the creation or distribution of sexually explicit images. Minors who sext can therefore face criminal charges regardless of the factual circumstances of the case. Furthermore, they may face adult rather than juvenile criminal charges, which could lead to more serious consequences.

Mitigating factors

The recent case in Canon City indicates that state prosecutors may take other factors into account when deciding whether to press charges in sexting cases. According to CNN, the county district attorney decided not to prosecute the involved teenagers due to the absence of aggravating factors, such as coercion. However, the district attorney also issued a warning that teenagers in the area who continue sexting may face more serious consequences in the future.

Developing a defense

Given the serious potential consequences associated with teen sexting, anyone who has been accused of this offense in Colorado may benefit from seeking private legal representation. A defense attorney may be able to help an accused teenager present any mitigating factors or identify other means of challenging these serious charges.