The purpose of state and federal laws against child pornography seems clear: to prevent adults from victimizing children and young teenagers. But does it make sense to apply the same laws when the accused individual is a teenager themselves?

The rise of smartphones has made this hypothetical question a reality for many young people in Texas and across the country. The popularity of selfies has especially collided with federal laws prohibiting the use of the internet to transmit nude or lurid photos and videos. These laws were written with cases of an adult taking pictures or videos of underage children in mind.

Selfies vs. federal child porn laws

But with selfies, the person being filmed is also the photographer. So elements of coercion and intent to create child pornography are much murkier.

For example, say a 17-year-old female takes a nude photo of herself and sends it to her 18-year-old boyfriend’s phone. Not only would the boyfriend be potentially guilty of possessing child pornography, but the female could be guilty of producing it.

Possible exceptions explored…

As usual, the law was behind the technology, but some state lawmakers around the country have begun to respond. For example, in Maryland, legislators introduced four separate bills intended to make an exemption to that state’s child pornography laws for selfies and other forms of “sexting.”

… But not in federal law

However, there is currently no such exception at the federal level. Possessing or sending a sexually suggestive photo of a minor is illegal, no matter the circumstances. If you have been charged with a federal child pornography crime, you are likely facing stiff penalties. A first-time conviction for possession carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Your best chance at a fair outcome to your case is to hire a criminal defense attorney who regularly takes on cases in federal court. You need a high level of experience with the federal procedures and laws on your side.