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"As long as I have any choice, I will stay only in a country where political liberty, toleration, and equality of all citizens before the law are the rule." - Albert Einstein

Teenager and Mother in "Sexting" Case Have Protected 1st and 14th Amendment Interests

Posted: March 19, 2010 Filed under: Case Law, Law-Related News, Uncategorized

In a first-of-its-kind decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has determined that a teenager and her mother are likely to prevail on First and 14th Amendment claims brought after a local prosecutor threatened to prosecute the teen for “sexting.”

Miller v. Mitchell arose after the district attorney threatened to prosecute the teenager unless she attended a class and wrote an essay about what she had done. Although topless photos of the girl were found on other students’ cell phones, there was no evidence that the girl possessed or distributed the photo, and no probable cause supported the prosecution. The court wrote, “We agree that an individual district attorney may not coerce parents into permitting him to impose on their children his ideas of morality and gender roles.”

Coercing the teenager to write an essay “explaining how [her] actions were wrong,” when she did not believe appearing in the photo was wrong, constitutes “compelled speech” in violation of First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Coercion of the mother, on the other hand, violated fundamental parental rights under the 14th Amendment, the opinion says.

As a result of the Court’s decision, an injunction barring the threatened prosecution remains in effect. The court did not decide the larger question of whether sexting photos are, themselves, free speech protected by the First Amendment.

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