Wisconsin teens can face felony charges for sexting

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The lack of a specific sexting law means Wisconsin teens texting each other explicit pictures or videos could face the same criminal consequences as sexual predators if they are caught.

“It can be anything from probation, supervision while that person’s in the community, or in the cases of conviction for child pornography, it can result in a prison sentence,” Madison criminal defense attorney David Stegall said.

According to Stegall, a conviction can also mean mandatory fines and registering as a sex offender.

“Often times they [parents] are aghast at how severe it is,” Stegall said. “Not necessarily that they condone their child’s behavior, but to see their child exposed to very serious felony convictions, with lifetime consequences, for someone that’s at such a young age.”

The sexting law conversation has been sparked by a Fayetteville, North Carolina, case. Seventeen-year-old star quarterback Cormega Copening has been suspended from the football team and is facing felony child exploitation and child porn charges for consensually sexting with his girlfriend. Both of them were 16 at the time.

In North Carolina, even if the sexting is consensual, their age makes the act illegal. Without sexting laws in Wisconsin, Stegall said it is up to a prosecutor’s discretion.

The Madison lawyer, who said teen sexting caseloads are increasing at the same rate as heroin cases, thinks it is time for lawmakers to change the law.

“I think the statutes in place now are very broad and don’t apply. They’re not a close fit to the situation in North Carolina, where it’s two juveniles — consensual, in a relationship — who end up sharing their information,” Stegall said. “I don’t think our existing statutes adequately cover that. And often times lead to very, very harsh consequences.”

In the North Carolina case, the girlfriend’s charges were dropped to a misdemeanor. Copening has a court date on Sept. 30. If convicted he will have to register as a sex offender.