Child pornography laws are designed to stop the sexual exploitation of children.  Criminal statutes make it illegal to possess pictures or videos showing lewd or indecent acts involving children.  However, minors who produce or share nude photos with dating partners or other people their age can still be prosecuted under these same statutes.  Because the juvenile justice system in New Jersey recognizes that minors should not be held criminally culpable for illegal acts they commit as minors, these rules often create strange outcomes.  The Law Offices of John J. Zarych’s Atlantic City child pornography defense attorneys explain these rules and how minors can still be charged with child pornography crimes in New Jersey.

Can Minors Face Child Pornography Charges for their Own Photos?

Laws making it illegal to possess or produce child pornography apply to every individual in New Jersey – adults and minors alike.  These laws were originally intended to protect minors from being exploited by adults, but these laws are often used to protect minors from themselves and other children.

Today, it is not unheard of for teenagers to share sexually explicit photos with each other.  Especially with easy access to online chat programs and texting, these kinds of photos are transferred daily among underage people in NJ.  However, each photo and video qualifies as illegal child pornography under the laws of New Jersey.

These laws even go so far as to apply to minors who take photos of themselves or other minors.  Even a selfie can constitute child pornography, and taking the photo can be charged as production of child pornography.  Moreover, each person who receives the photo can be charged with possession of child pornography – and if they send the photo to someone else, they can be charged with distribution of child pornography.

Juvenile Criminal Charges for Child Pornography in New Jersey

Instead of being charged with crimes in the adult criminal justice system, anyone under the age of 18 is usually processed through the juvenile justice system.  This system recognizes that a minor’s ability to reason and make good decisions is still developing, and it tries to prevent them from facing criminal penalties while they are still kids.

Nearly any charges you can face in the adult system can be brought in the juvenile system instead.  This means that teens who participate in sexting or sending nude photos of themselves and others are not usually tried in public criminal courts or sent to prison for their offenses.  Instead, they will be processed through the juvenile system.

This can result in a minor being “adjudicated delinquent” (instead of “found guilty).  The court will then decide whether punishment is necessary and what type of penalties and punishment the juvenile will face.  This could mean being placed on juvenile probation, where the juvenile will have to complete community service, crime prevention classes, and other programs to try to prevent future criminal violations.  In other cases involving malicious spreading of child pornography or internet crimes, as opposed to sharing one’s own selfies, the court may find that commitment to a juvenile detention facility or more serious penalties are necessary.  Even though records of juvenile offenses are often sealed, this kind of offense could still require registration as a sex offender under Megan’s Law.

In some cases, a judge may find that punishment is unnecessary, and the juvenile may be released from the system.

Avoiding Criminal Charges for Child Pornography as a Minor

Many police and prosecutors understand that New Jersey’s child pornography laws should not be used to punish the same people they are designed to protect.  While sharing intimate photos might not always be a wise decision and could cause trouble for both the sender and the recipient, some prosecutors understand that this is not something anyone should face criminal charges for.  Many prosecutors make it a policy not to file criminal charges or juvenile charges for these kinds of issues, instead letting schools and parents deal with their children as they see fit.

It is generally up to the prosecutor’s office as to whether they will file charges or not.  This means that each prosecutor’s office might have its own rules and policies surrounding these kinds of sexting cases, and the case might come out differently depending on where you live.  Our attorneys practice in many of the suburbs and counties throughout South Jersey, so we might be able to help fight your case and argue to have charges dropped wherever you are in South Jersey.

There are many other steps that you can take to avoid charges for this kind of sharing of intimate photos.  First, do not take or send intimate or nude photos of anyone under 18.  Even if producing photos of oneself or another minor were legal, sending nude photos to someone else could be considered harassment or lewd behavior if they did not consent to receiving the photo.  Second, report any photos you do receive.  Reporting a photo to the police usually does not result in you being charged if you do so immediately.  Talk to a lawyer for help if you have received or created nude photos or videos of yourself or another minor.

Call Our Atlantic City Child Pornography Defense Attorneys for a Free Consultation

Our attorneys represent adults and minors charged with serious crimes, including possession, distribution, or production of child pornography.  If you have a teen or minor child who is facing potential legal problems because of nude photographs or child pornography in their possession, contact our law offices today.  The Law Office of John J. Zarych’s Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers offer free, confidential consultations to discuss how we can help in your case.  For your free legal consultation, call us today at (609) 616-4956.