Recently, a 43-year-old Round Lake man was convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old girl in a motel.
It’s a sad story that most of us have probably heard versions of before. They met on a social media app online. She sent him sexts. They arranged for him to pick her up at her school and go to the motel. They had sex.
Because of this, the man found himself facing multiple charges of sexual abuse and child pornography, and ended up pleading guilty to sexual abuse and receiving a four year prison sentence.
Why bring this story up? Because while it is quite well known that it’s illegal to have sex with a minor, many people don’t know much about another crime that is buried within the facts above.
You might have noticed that the man was facing a child pornography charge. Why? Not for an action that he took. No, it was because the girl sent him a sext.
Sexting and Child Pornography Possession Laws in Our State
If you’ve been paying attention at all over the past several years, you probably know that sexting is something of a hot-button issue at the moment. Generally speaking, it is not against the law when two consenting adults take explicit or naked images of themselves and send them to each other. However, when minors are involved, it’s a different story.
Lawmakers everywhere are still scrambling to figure out exactly how to handle these types of charges – particularly as they relate to teens sexting each other. Here in Illinois, we actually have a specific law on the books to deal with teen sexting: 705 ILCS 405/3-40.
Minors in our state involved in “electronic dissemination of indecent visual depictions” and related offenses typically go through the juvenile justice system and face consequences such as:
- Community service
- Serving time in a juvenile facility
Understandably, penalties for adults who sext with minors are more serious. Sending “harmful material” to someone underage is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and Class 4 Felony afterwards.
Here’s where things can get a bit extreme, though. If a minor sends you a sexually suggestive image – whether or not you requested it – you are technically “in possession” of something that likely fits the definition of child pornography in our state. As such, you fall under the “possession” part of our child pornography statute, which states you have committed an illegal act if you:
“(6) with knowledge of the nature or content thereof, possesses any film, videotape, photograph or other similar visual reproduction or depiction by computer of any child or person with a severe or profound intellectual disability whom the person knows or reasonably should know to be under the age of 18 or to be a person with a severe or profound intellectual disability, engaged in any activity described in subparagraphs (i) through (vii) of paragraph (1) of this subsection”
So, what consequences can you face with a child pornography possession charge?
Penalties Associated with Possessing Child Pornography in Illinois
As you might expect, the penalties for child pornography in our state are pretty severe – even possession. Depending on the specific circumstances of the situation, child pornography is charged as a Class 4, 3, 2, 1, or X felony.
Class 4 felonies come with a prison sentence of 1-3 years. Class 3 is 2-5 years. Class 2 is 3-7 years. Class 1 is 4-15 years. Class X is 6-30 years. Most child pornography charges here are either Class 1 or Class 3 charges, while Class X charges are reserved for aggravated child pornography offenses.
In addition to incarceration, child pornography convictions come with fines of between $1,000 and $100,000, and the requirement of registering as a sex offender. Moreover, there is also the possibility of incurring an “extended term” if there are certain aggravating factors in your case.
Finally, it should be noted that it is possible for minors to be charged with child pornography as well, though this rarely occurs in these types of situations.
The Bottom Line for Adults Worried about Accidental Sexts from a Minor
It is vital that you take extreme care when you meet someone online and start engaging in sexual talk with them.
Before things go too far, ask how old they are. If they admit to being under 18, break things off immediately. Even if you don’t intend to take things in an explicit direction, the risk is too great and you cannot control their actions.
If you do find yourself charged, reach out to our office as soon as possible.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.