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'Sexting' teens won't be prosecuted

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Greensburg police have withdrawn summary charges against two Greensburg Salem Middle School students over a sexting incident, the chief said Friday.

The alleged incident occurred before a new Pennsylvania law took effect to regulate sending sexually explicit photos by cellphone, Chief Walter “Wally” Lyons said.

Because of that, police would have been required to file felony charges, the most serious possible, against the pair, using the old law, he said.

“We're withdrawing the charges because there was some confusion,” Lyons said. “The case was reported after the new law was signed, but the incident occurred before the new law (took effect).

“We don't believe the offense warrants prosecution under the existing law at that time, which would be a felony,” Lyons added.

Under the previous law for sexting, police could have filed child pornography charges.

In October, Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation that creates a tiered system to adjudicate cases. It reduces consensual sending of explicit photos between minors older than 12 to a summary offense, the least serious criminal charge.

The law took effect Dec. 14.

During the fall, the 13-year-old girl used her cellphone to send a topless photo of herself to the 14-year-old boy at his request, police said. The boy deleted the photo and didn't show it to others, Detective Sgt. Henry Fontana said.

The two exchanged the photo over a weekend, away from the middle school, Superintendent Eileen Amato said.

The girl's mother discovered the photo and reported the incident to police. Investigators analyzed both cellphones.

Police spoke with the children's parents while considering withdrawing the charges. The parents decided to address the incident with their children, and police agreed to that, Lyons said.

The legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania had threatened to sue, saying the charges should not have been filed. The new law was intended to be used for more serious sexting offenses, Witold “Vic” Walczak maintained.

The ACLU played no factor in the decision to withdraw the charges, Lyons said.

A national discussion about sexting hit home when six Greensburg Salem High School students were involved in the exchange of explicit photos in 2008. The six were charged with felony offenses. At that time, critics said the law was too harsh for minors.

Five of the six students facing a child pornography charge were ordered by a juvenile court judge to take part in educational programs. One of the teens, who had a previous juvenile record, was placed on probation for a year.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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