Some prosecutors avoid filing felony cases against teens accused of sexting

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DENVER – Police in Canon City continue to investigate a sexting ring involving potentially hundreds of high school students. There are serious consequences for sending nude photos, but local law enforcement said harsh punishments might not be the answer.

The students involved in the Canon City incident could face felonies and be on the sex offender registry for life. Dozens of students have allegedly been passing around nude photos on their cellphones.

“It’s obvious that our kids are doing and making mistakes. And it’s not that our kids are bad. Ninety percent of the kids we work with are good,” said First Judicial District Attorney’s Office investigator Michael Harris.

His office handles crime in Jefferson and Gilpin counties. Harris said one of the major issues is that technology is moving faster than our laws can keep up.

“A naked picture. A partially naked picture isn’t a big deal to our kids,” Harris said.

His department has taken a different approach when handling sexting cases.

“We try not to charge any child in our judicial district because if you charge somebody with an appropriate type of crimes they’re committing, they would be felons, have to register as a sex offender and we don’t want to do that to our kids,” Harris said.

He said there are cases in which teens are predators and those cases are prosecuted accordingly. However, in the majority of the cases, the teens do not understand what they are doing is a criminal act. So Harris and his team focus on education as a stern warning.

“Forget the crime,” Harris said. “The social implications are devastating to everyone that’s involved.”

The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office has become an example for other jurisdictions as Colorado sees more sexting cases. Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler said his office is working on a policy to completely bypass the juvenile system for a course that would teach parents and teens about risks and the laws.

“The intent of those people down in Canon City is not to promote child pornography in the way that we’re concerned about as adults. These kids are engaging in activities that juveniles engage in and they ought to be treated that way,” Brauchler said.