BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado’s district attorneys are stepping up pressure to bring back a bill that would make sexting a misdemeanor.
The bill died in committee on Tuesday and as of right now it’s currently a felony.
In Boulder County there have been nine cases over the last 18 months where prosecutors have brought felony charges. Most of those resulted in deferred sentences, meaning if the teens completed classes the charges were dismissed. But not all were deferred and those convicted were required to register as a sex offenders.
“We struggle over every one of these cases,” Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said.
Garnett says his office sees dozens of sexting cases every year and many of them have devastating outcomes.
“A boy decided that he would share the pictures that he had of the girl with his entire gym class,” Garnett said.
Garnett says he would prefer not to bring felony charges, but right now it’s the only tool at his disposal.
“We need to have a tool that is proportionate to the nature of what it is that happened,” he said.
Garnett and all of Colorado’s elected district attorneys are pushing lawmakers to bring back a bill making sexting a misdemeanor in most cases, and a petty offense in cases where it’s consensual between two teens.
A House committee killed the bill after opponents argued that the threat of even a petty offense would keep victims from reporting if the picture they sent was shared without their permission.
“It’s very rare with a low level offense, like a petty offense, a misdemeanor, something like that, that a young person would not come forward and cooperate,” Garnett said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper also expressed a sense of urgency to get something done.
“I think being everything a felony is a mistake,” Hickenlooper said.
After the bill died in committee the governor weighed in on the legislation for the first time.
“This is obviously one of the most sensitive topics there is,” he said. “So trying to thread that needle and figure out what is the right level to make sure we get kids’ attentions, let them know this is serious.”
“It’s very, very important that the law be able to differentiate between types of behavior and not treat everything the same,” Garnett said.
Garnett says just as lawmakers separated out some cases of public nudity like streaking or urinating in public from the sex offender realm several years ago, they need to do the same with sexting. But opponents say consensual sexting should be completely legal and it’s all or nothing for them — legalize it, or leave it a felony.
It’s possible another bill will be introduced this session.