Bill Would Lessen Punishment For Teen Sexting

Legislation Would Give Prosecutors, Judges More Options

Indiana lawmakers will consider a bill that would give prosecutors and judges more options when charging teens accused of sexting.

Currently in Indiana, minors convicted of sending or receiving sexually explicit images via cell phone are charged with a felony, which carries a of penalty of up to eight years in prison and requires registration as a sex offender, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported.

A Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, would make teen sexting a status offense, giving courts several sentencing options, including requiring the offender to get counseling, attend education programs and perform community service.

"It has to have some level of crime in order to have the rehabilitative aspect to it," said Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, who is supporting the bill. "But it's certainly not something that would follow them for the rest of their lives."

Dennis Mitchell, 25, a former Warren Township substitute teacher, is charged with two counts of child seduction and a charge of disseminating material harmful to minors.

Police said he used a cell phone to trade nude photos with a 16-year-old student before having sex with the girl in a faculty bathroom.

Brizzi said Merritt's bill would help legally clarify similar situations.

"He's the predator in this case, not the female student, but, technically, she's in violation. Technically, we could charge her with a felony," he said.

Indianapolis sex crimes investigators said they've seen a recent increase in cases involving sexting.

"People think that when they send the text, it's not face-to-face, so they can be a little more bold than they would if they were talking to the student face to face," said Capt. Greg Bieberich. "They have this feeling that it's private, when it's really not."

Police said parents should check their children's phones regularly and talk to them about the dangers of sexting.