By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – A new Quinnipiac University poll finds more than 60 percent of Coloradans think kids shouldn’t be expelled from school for sexting and 70 percent say they shouldn’t face criminal charges.

The findings come as hundreds of students face felonies in a sexting scandal in Canyon City, and as the Colorado District Attorney’s Council drafts legislation taking sexting out of the sex offender realm.

Under Colorado’s Criminal Code, sexting constitutes sexual exploitation of a child — a felony. Under the bill, most cases would be considered misuse of electronic communication — a misdemeanor.

“The last thing a prosecutor in Colorado wants to do is charge a young boy or girl who’s taken picture of themselves and shown it to another person, or who has it in their possession, with a crime,” said Tom Raynes, Executive Director of the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, which represents all of Colorado’s elected district attorneys.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Raynes says most sexting cases are referred to a diversion program that consists of education and intervention, but says a misdemeanor charge for sexting is needed for the same reason there’s a charge for minors in possession of alcohol or marijuana.

“We need a rule and there needs be a black and white message — ‘this is wrong, don’t do it, we’re trying to protect you.’ At the same time, it has to be tempered and measured with the right degree of accountability,” Raynes said.

He says studies have shown that when kids know sexting is against the law, fewer engage in it.

“But the challenge right now is to get them all educated that it is against the law and make sure the law that they’re violating is not too harsh.”

The bill still allows prosecutors to file felony charges in very serious cases. Even if it passes, Raynes says most cases will still often result in diversion on the first offense.

While the legislation has bipartisan sponsors, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar is opposing it. It says the focus should be on education and intervention not continued criminalization.

Shaun Boyd is CBS4’s political specialist. She’s a veteran reporter with more than 25 years of experience. Follow her on Twitter @cbs4shaun.

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