Summer, Smart Phones, and Screen Time – Why every parent needs to talk to their kids about smart phones, social media, and monitor all of their technology, especially during the summer.
Summer often presents challenges for parents to keep their kids and young adults occupied with camps, activities, and play dates. While parents do their best to fill their days with constant movement, there are only so many activities. Young people, in most cases, will have more free time during the summer than any other time in the year.
In the past, when there was down time from sports, outside activities, and camp, kids needed to occupy time with books, board games, and non interactive video games. While these alternatives were not ideal, they didn’t involve potential legal consequences for young adults. These non-active alternatives couldn’t take kids into the outside world and expose them to others. It was one way communication.
Today technology has changed everything. Kids learn new things and are exposed to adult concepts or issues at a much faster rate. While there are certainly advantages to these technological advances, they come with potential consequences, especially when a young person becomes a victim of cyber bullying. At this point many of us have read or heard stories of young people committing suicide or attempting to hurt themselves or others due to technology. Parents must understand that this is a real issue and talk to their kids about it.
If it happens on social media, does it really happen?
While most people believe that these cases arise from conduct which occurs on the street, in a car, or directly by police, there are many cases where the conduct is observed on social media and on applications such as Facebook, Tik Tok, or Instagram.
The internet, smart phones, and applications like YouTube, Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms are not going away, they will likely continue to evolve. Technology which used to confine people to personal computers and laptops is now available practically anywhere at any time.
It isn’t unusual for children as young as 8 or 9 to have smart phones and most teens have at least 1 social media account which allows them to interact with others all over the world! This technology is great, but it also comes with potential consequences which can sometimes follow a young person their entire life.
What crimes that can occur on social media?
People for some reason believe that police cannot charge someone with a crime if the only evidence appears on social media. This is simply NOT true. A video, text, audio or any combination of communication is enough to charge someone with various crimes including the following
- Possession with the intent to deliver illegal drugs or narcotics (Felony)
- Illegal possession of a handgun or firearm (felony)
- Terroristic threats (Felony)
- Harassment (Misdemeanor)
- Sex Offenses
Sex Crimes and Social Media – Talk to your kids!
What type of sex crimes are associated with Smart Phone, Smart Devices, and Social Media Accounts?
In Pennsylvania, any person who intentionally views or knowingly possesses a photograph or image of a child under the age of 18 engaging in a prohibited sexual act or the simulation of such an act commits a felony of the 3rd degree under Section 6312(d) and the dissemination of such images to another (through texts, email or social media) under 6312(c) is also a felony offense in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
A second offenses or subsequent offense raises the gradation to a felony to a 2nd degree. If a cell phone or some other smart device is used to transmit or possess these images, the prosecution can also bring the crime of criminal use of a communication facility which is a felony of the 3rd degree. There is no obligation for the court, upon conviction, to run sentences concurrently (at the same time).
What if person sending the images was just doing it as a joke or prank?
Our law firm frequently encounters these types of charges where teens and young adults engage in what appears to be some type of prank, bet, or dare. The intent, however, of the actor is irrelevant for the purposes of these charges. Intent becomes relevant in situations where the prosecution attempts to prove additional crimes associated with these actions such as stalking, (a misdemeanor of the 1st degree and/or harassment).
What other potential crimes are associated with Smart Devices and Phones?
Stalking under Section 2709 is committed when a person engages in a course of conduct with the intent to place another person in fear of bodily injury or cause substantial emotional distress. The dissemination of intimate photos will fall within this category. In most situations it is not a felony offenses but it can constitute a felony for a 2nd or subsequent act.
Charges or criminal allegations such as harassment and stalking do not need to involve actual physical contact or need the defendant’s actual presence in the victim’s immediate area.
The prosecution can establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for such charges through social media postings, text messages, and emails. While a crime like harassment under Section 2709 can involve actual physical contact, it is not required! The prosecution is only required to prove a course of conduct which serves no legitimate purpose other than to harass, annoy, or alarms someone else.
Sex Offender Registration
If your child is charged with any of these offenses, it is important that you contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss options. In addition to a criminal conviction and life long convicted felon status, a criminal defendant also faces the requirement to register under the Sexual Offender Registration & Notification Act (SORNA; Megan’s Law before 2012 now the “Adam Walsh Act”). If the person does not register under the act the failure to do so is a felony offense in and of itself under Section 4915.1.
Crimes like child pornography and the dissemination of intimate photographs or images require a 15-year registration (Tier 1 offenses) while more serious offenses like sexual assault, prostitution, sex trafficking require a 25-year registration. Finally, some crimes, such as rape, kidnapping, certain sexual assault, require a lifetime registration.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
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