Sex crimes: Pennsylvania protects minors from themselves

Involvement with the internet can turn a legal encounter into a crime. The legal age of consent to have sex in Pennsylvania is 16, but if there are pictures taken by either party for viewing on a computer, that activity is a crime.

Selfies of underage nudity not legal

With the availability of the internet and other devices, photographing consensual sex is quite common and the parties often do not realize they are violating the law. Even where both parties are minors, photos and videos made of their sexual encounters or even just nudity can be considered child porn.

The wild popularity among young people of "sexting," or sending nude or salacious pictures of themselves to each other, has caused concern across the United States and the world due to the characterization of the pictures as child porn. Often the pictures posted online end up in the hands of a person who shares it with others on the underground "darknet."

Minor has different meanings under the law

Becoming an adult in the eyes of the law can happen at different times for certain actions. Many states, including Pennsylvania, set age 16 for consenting to have sex, but in order to be considered an adult with the ability to sign a contract, you must be 18. For buying and drinking liquor, most states require a person to be 21.

The difference in ages for becoming a legal adult has caused some confusion and has led to unintended criminal charges. In the recent case of A.S. v. Pennsylvania State Police, a young man of 21 met a 16-year-old girl online had consensual sex with her. That was legal, but when he had the girl take sexually oriented pictures of herself and videotaped their encounter, he was charged with several sexual crimes and sentenced to a term of imprisonment and was required to register as a sexual offender.

Marriage does not emancipate minors from child porn

As reported by WSLS.com, a situation in Virginia several years ago found a strip club owner facing charges of producing child porn because he videotaped a sexual encounter with a woman who was 17, but was married. His defense was that since the woman was married, she was emancipated from laws governing minors. Unfortunately for him, legally her marriage did not free her from the protection of child pornography laws.

Registration brands an offender sometimes for life

In many cases, a conviction for a sexual offense carries with it an enhanced sentence which includes registration as a sexual predator. There are several levels of enhancement, with lengthened incarceration and reporting time for multiple offenses. A person who has been convicted of possessing a number of images of child pornography is considered in some states as having committed a second or subsequent offense for each picture. This results in a much longer sentence and lifetime registration.

Possession of child pornography can be punished more severely than actual sexual assault, because each image represents a victimized child. Therefore, mandatory minimum sentences apply to those convicted of sexual abuse of children by possessing child pornography.

Protect your rights

Because of the seriousness of criminal charges for any involvement with child pornography are so severe, it is crucial that the person charged retain legal representation immediately. Whether the facts are in dispute or there is mistaken identity, an experienced attorney can possibly minimize the charges and protect your reputation and rights.