Sexting Laws – It’s Illegal to Have Obscene Photos of a 16-Year Old

In Ohio, the age of consent is 16. It is generally perfectly legal for an adult, no matter how old, to have consensual unpaid sex with a minor, so long as the minor is 16 years of age or older.  But it is a crime in Ohio for that same person to look at a photo of the minor, if the photo is determined by law enforcement to be “obscene.”  A photo can be “obscene” under Ohio law if found to show people as “objects of sexual appetite.” Under this standard, any sexually suggestive photo of a minor runs the risk of being considered “obscene.”

Obscene Photos of Minors and Sexting Laws

Obscene photos of minors frequently occurs with texting or “sexting” an inappropriate photo.  After an obscene photo is taken, every time the photo is texted or viewed, a felony occurs.  These felonies often happen like this:

1.  First, the person to whom the sext was sent does not hold it confidentially, but rather shares it with a group of friends who may initially find it funny.  Here is how those people react.

However, what those people do not realize is that it is a felony in Ohio to possess an obscene photo of a minor.  And it is another felony if they send it on to another.

These people receiving, looking, and laughing at the photo of a minor are committing a serious Ohio felony crime.  And if they text the photo to someone else, then they are committing a second serious felony sex offense.

2.  Often the photo is sent to a close friend or relative of the person shown in the photo.  This is their reaction.  However, no matter how offended this friend or relative may be, if they continue to possess, view, or transmit the photo, they too can be guilty of an Ohio felony sex crime.

This is because in Ohio if a person (including a juvenile) possesses an obscene photo of a minor, then that person is guilty of the crime of “Pandering Obscenity Involving a Minor,” a fourth degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months imprisonment, together with mandatory sexual offender registration requirements.  See Ohio Revised Code Section 2907.321(A)(5).

The sad fact is that Ohio’s criminal statutes can make felons out of good people who may innocently take an inappropriate photo of themselves or others without realizing the potential consequences of their actions.

3.  This is how the person who took the photo looks when they finally realize who may have seen it.  But here, the person who took the photo is only reacting to the knowledge that many people may have viewed it. The potential criminal consequences have not yet occurred to her.

Right now, our law firm is representing a young man who received a text of a photo of a minor appearing to be engaged in a sex act.  Our client had no knowledge of prior to receiving it.  He and 4 of his friends have all been charged with serious felony offenses as a result of their possession of the photo.  They are all facing incarceration and sex registration consequences.

Other violations of Ohio’s statute governing child obscenity can result in conviction of a second degree felony, with possible punishment of up to eight years imprisonment.

If a photo shows a minor engaging in sexual activity, even if it is not determined to be “obscene,” the same penalties apply.  See Ohio Revised Code Section 2907.322.

The irony of Ohio’s sex crime laws is that it is legally permissible for an adult to have unpaid consensual sex with a 16 or 17 year-old, but it is a serious felony sex crime to have a sexually suggestive photo of the same person.  It does not seen quite right.

Lawyers in our Columbus law firm represent clients accused of possessing child pornography in Columbus and throughout Ohio. If you, a friend, or relative have been accused or are under criminal investigation for possession of child pornography, or any other sex offense, please contact one of our Columbus criminal defense attorneys for a free initial consultation.