In a bizarre case that has legal experts flummoxed, one North Carolina teenage couple has been slapped with felony charges for sexting and possessing nude photos… of each other.
Last year, police were investigating a rape case at Douglas Byrd High School in Fayetteville, N.C., when they searched through then-16-year-old Cormega Copening’s cell phone. While they didn’t find anything related to the case, investigators did come across nude photos of Copening and of his girlfriend, Brianna Denson, who was also 16. According to the Washington Post, police arrested the teens and charged them with sexually exploiting themselves.
Here’s the kicker: Under state law, anyone over the age of 16 will be tried as an adult. However, child pornography laws apply to minors under the age of 18, which means that Copening and Denson were tried as adults, though they are simultaneously considered the underage victims.
Copening was charged with a whopping five felonies—two for taking nude photos of himself, two for sending the pics and one for having a photo of Denson—and faced up to 10 years in prison. Denson was charged with two—for taking and sending a nude selfie—facing four years. Both teens took a plea deal, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and agreeing to stay out of legal trouble for a year. In exchange, the two won’t be slapped with a life-long “sex offender” label.
“It’s dysfunctional to be charged with possession of your own image,” University of Wisconsin law professor Justin Patchin said to the Post. “I don’t think it should be a criminal offense where there is no victim.”
Shockingly—or maybe not—Rep. Paul Stam (NC), who drafted the child pornography law in 1990, told the Post that he didn’t intend for the law to be used to prosecute minors in consensual relationships.
Many law experts and legal scholars agree with Patchin, noting that the law is outdated and doesn’t take into account the new era of smartphones and sexting (28 percent of teens have admitted that they have willingly texted a naughty picture). They also pointed out that absurdity of being charged for possessing a nude photo of yourself.
“The facts make no sense,” former state supreme court justice Ed Brady said to the Fayette Observer. “Could the boy look in a mirror at himself? What’s the difference?”