What is Sexting, and is it a crime in Mississippi?

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs to someone, usually over a cell phone.  The term is about five years old, According to a nationwide survey conducted by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, roughly 20 percent of teens admit to participating in “sexting.”  As the father of a teenager, this makes me nauseous.

Is sexting illegal in Mississippi?

This year (2010) the Mississippi legislature tried to make it a misdemeanor to “knowingly create, receive, exchange, send, or possess a photograph, video, or other material that shows  a child under the age of eighteen (18) in a state of nudity” using a cell phone or other electronic communication device.  This bill (House Bill 643) did not make it out of committee this year, and did not become law.  BUT . . .

It is already a crime in Mississippi to  “knowingly disseminate sexually oriented material to any person under eighteen (18) years of age.”  The definitions of “dissemination” and “sexually oriented material” are broad enough to encompass just about everything you could think of.  This crime is a misdemeanor, with a maximum fine of $5000.00 and maximum imprisonment of up to 1 year.  Miss. Code Ann. § 97-5-27.  Because the statute applies to “any person,” it might fit the situation where, say, one teenager sends nude pictures of theirself to another teenager.  And yes, a conviction under this crime carries the additional penalty of lifelong registration as a sex offender.  So “sexting” may already be covered as a crime under Mississippi law.  But some states are passing laws specifically targeting “sexting,” typically with lower penalties, to deal appropriately with the growing number of teenagers who are guilty mostly of immaturity and bad judgment when sending out sexually explicit photos of themselves.  Perhaps Mississippi will do this as well, but so far it has not.

Of course, it has been illegal for some time for anyone to (1) depict or record; (2) send, transport, ship, mail or receive; (3) distribute, sell, or attempt to sell; (4) or even possess any depiction of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct.  Miss. Code Ann. § 97-5-33.  This is Mississippi’s standard child pornography law, and the penalties for violating it are severe. 

Why you (or your children) shouldn’t “sext”:

  • Because under the current state of the law in Mississippi you could potentially be punished severely, and have to register as a sex offender.
  • Because once you send a text, post, or image across the internet or phone network it is PERMANENT.  It cannot be erased, forgotten, or recalled.  Imagine going into your first job interview after you graduate college and your interviewer pulling out nude photos of you taken 5 years ago.  Awkward does not begin to describe it. 
  • Social repercussions at school, church and the community that are insurmountable. 
  • Sexting has been shown to affect the emotional and psychological development of a child.

Clarence has defended all types of sex crimes over the past eleven years.  He can frankly, professionally, and discreetly discuss what is involved with a sex crimes prosecution, possible defenses, and repercussions of a conviction.  If you have been charged with this type of offense give us a call at 601-991-1099.  We are here to help.