Miller v. Skumanick
Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in a case involving teenagers and "sexting"—the practice of sending nude or semi-nude photographs via text message on cell phones. The District Attorney in Wyoming County, PA threatened to prosecute three teenage girls for child pornography—a felony—if the youth did not agree to an alternative "re-education program" designed to teach the girls "what it means to be a girl in today's society."
In its brief, Juvenile Law Center argued that sexting should not be criminalized because it is simply the convergence of new technology with normal adolescent development and the specific photographs at issue did not qualify as child pornography under the relevant PA statutes. Juvenile Law Center further argued that sexting prosecutions are inconsistent with the juvenile justice system’s goal of rehabilitation and are an abuse of prosecutorial discretion that could result in severe consequences, including youth being mandated to register as sex offenders.
After the Third Circuit remanded this case back to I.S. District Judge Munley, the Wyoming County District Attorney stipulated that “there will be no juvenile prosecution or prosecution of any kind against the juvenile plaintiffs for any matter complained of or referred to in this litigation concerning the dissemination of photographs or pictures or any other matter relevant to the Plaintiff’s complaint.” Judge Munley issued an order on April 30, 2010, permanently enjoining the District Attorney from initiating criminal charges against the girls.
The United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, affirmed the District Court opinion, holding that the District Attorney failed to show he had a legal basis for the child pornography charges because there was insufficient evidence that the girls knowingly transmitted the photos. The Court did not address the issue of whether the content of the photos constituted child pornography. The Court also agreed that Skumanick’s attempt to force the youth to attend the program violated their parents’ constitutional right to raise their children as they saw fit and the girls’ constitutional right to freedom of speech, but did not address the more general issue of whether the dissemination of the photos was protected by the First Amendment.