Teen sexting bill aimed at downgrading crime fails in House committee

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DENVER -- A new sexting bill that would have downgraded the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor for most juveniles failed Tuesday in a State House committee.

The measure was proposed after the sexting scandal at Cañon City High School that involved more than 100 students last fall. Prosecutors did not charge anyone in the sexting scandal that forced Cañon City High School to forfeit its final football game last year.

That's partly because current law defines sexting as an automatic felony, a punishment many,  including Cañon City High School's principal, consider overkill, especially for teenagers.

The new measure, sponsored by State Rep. Rhonda Fields, would make it a misdemeanor or petty offense for a juvenile to distribute, publish or possess any sexually explicit images of a minor.

"Sometimes these kids don't understand the legal consequences that's associated with sexting," Fields said.

Fields said children do foolish things. She believes it's better to give prosecutors an option that punishes teens who distribute photos without permission but without giving them a life-altering punishment such as registering as a sex offender.

"Why not ease the burden as it relates to sexting and giving DA's that there is restorative justice in place for kids?" Fields said.

But some critics of the measure said it doesn't do enough to protect potential sexting victims from being charged themselves.

"Just the fact that a victim may believe that the potential exists that they themselves may be prosecuted, that's going to have a chilling effect on reporting," said Raana Simmons with the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "And victims are not going to come forward to report the crime because they're afraid they're going to get charged themselves."

Detractors won the day as the committee refused to pass the bill without more changes to the language.