In the Matter of the Welfare of an Unnamed Juvenile Defendant, No. 66-JV-17, Rice County District Court Third Judicial District, Juvenile Division (MN).
The accused adolescent sent a revealing picture of herself to a boy in whom she was interested. She is being prosecuted for violation of the Minnesota child pornography statute. An unfavorable disposition could result in several years’ imprisonment, a fine, and ten years’ registration as a predatory sex offender.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU), as amicus, implores the juvenile court to recognize that charging a person to be protected by the child pornography law with violation of that law is not merely absurd or ironic, but would produce crippling results that would ensure the defendant’s early adulthood would be hobbled by this draconian prosecution. Their submission is linked below, and summarized as follows.
Notwithstanding that adults might blanch — or perhaps because they would — the exchange of revealing self portraits and sexualized language among teens is commonplace. Some estimate one third of the adolescent population has engaged in such activity. While this does not establish that the activity is benign, it may be viewed as but one more item in the basketful of behaviors that result when an adult body remains occupied by a child’s mind. Adolescents are not always capable of measured reasoning, impulse control, foresight, or appreciation of consequences: for these and other reasons, it is the object of juvenile justice to seek to rehabilitate. To be a felon before the age of majority by virtue of a statute to protect and not necessarily to indict children, with all the civil disabilities likely to ensue, is harsh beyond measure and cannot be said to serve the court’s obligation to rehabilitate.
The statute is not free from constitutional infirmity. Most who encounter the statute would assume that it is applicable to adults exploiting children, not children exploring expressive agency. The law requires that persons be put on notice of what conduct runs afoul of the law. Where this is not plain, vagueness challenges are appropriate.
Moreover, the exchange of suggestive material is so common that it indicates that the statute captures protected speech too amply, again pointing to constitutional deficiency.
The court may chose a common sense limiting construction by interpreting the statute in accordance with its purpose and confining its application to adults exploiting children through the production of child pornography. Doing so would advance the interests of the state while sparing juveniles consequences unsuitable to their ages and capacities.
Giving careful consideration to the nature of these proceedings is particularly important where prosecution may be arbitrary and vary widely from state to state.