The use of sexually explicit images to extort money, sex, or other favors is clearly wrong. But is it a crime? A recent press report indicates that New Jersey lawmakers are pushing new legislation that would clearly make sexual extortion, or sextortion, a crime. The state Senate Judiciary Committee reported out a bill that, if enacted, would make sextortion a third-degree crime carrying up to five years in prison with up to a $15,000 fine. For minor or disabled victims, the crime would increase to second-degree aggravated sexual extortion carrying up to ten years in prison with up to a $150,000 fine.
The Legislation's Laudable Aim
New Jersey's pending sextortion legislation certainly sounds at first blush like a warranted protection. The above press report quotes the legislation's supporters pointing to criminal elements surfing the internet or hacking devices to discover intimate images with which to extort teens. Supporters say that the bill would protect minors and disabled persons whom hackers could especially target, embarrassing them into sharing further images, sending money, or even meeting the perpetrators for sex, all against their will. Perpetrators may even initially pose as friends to acquire access to the compromising images. The report adds that a national database took in about 1,400 sextortion complaints over a recent four-year period, suggesting concerning or even alarming growth in the activity.
The Legislation's Threat
Not everything, though, would necessarily be good about criminalizing so-called sextortion. The proposed legislation, like other legislation criminalizing certain conduct, carries some over-prosecution risks. Teens take cell phone photographs and videos of everything these days, unfortunately including intimate content. And that content can end up getting exchanged from phone to phone or through social media. Yet teens don't necessarily extort sex, money, or other favors with every intimate image they take or share. Their possession and use of those images may be relatively innocent, at least not involving any extortionate purpose. And yet possession of those images could easily lead to sextortion allegations from the other teens whom the images unfortunately depict. No legislation is perfect. Any crime legislation carries the risk of over-charging and inappropriate charges unsupported by the evidence. Crime legislation targeting behavior that teens frequently engage in risks criminalizing teens.
Retain a Premier New Jersey Defense Attorney
Teens or adults sharing intimate images can, in the worst situations, already face various forms of criminal charge, whether for extortion, pornography, misuse of electronic devices and data, or other crimes. Charges for that activity will likely increase if New Jersey adopts its proposed sextortion legislation. But the risk of criminal charges already exists. If you face, or someone you love faces, a New Jersey criminal charge involving sexual or other conduct, retain premier New Jersey criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your aggressive and effective representation. Call 888-535-3686 or go online now.