Couples in modern romantic relationships typically communicate and exchange flirtatious messages through smartphones, emails, and even social media direct messages. Sometimes, these messages include nude photos or sexually explicit videos.
But is sexting a crime? It depends on the circumstances.
In California, sexting between consenting adults is generally legal. However, sexting between an adult and a minor (i.e., person under 18 years of age) or between a minor and another minor is against the law.
Sending explicit messages or images to a minor can be charged as “harmful matter sent to seduce a minor.” This sex crime is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by a jail sentence of up to six months and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.
If a person sexts with a minor and saves any explicit images or videos of the minor on his/her device, he/she can be charged with possession of child pornography. This sex crime is considered a wobbler, which means it can be tried as either a misdemeanor or felony. A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum jail term of one year and/or a fine of up to $2,000, while a felony conviction is punishable by imprisonment for up to eight years and/or a maximum fine of $100,000.
However, if an adult does not consent to another adult’s messages and the messaging adult continues to send sexually suggestive messages, then the messaging adult can be charged with harassment, which is a misdemeanor offense, or making an annoying phone call or electronic communication, which is also a misdemeanor that carries a jail term of up to six months and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.
In addition, continuously sending inappropriate and nonconsensual messages can also be considered stalking, which is also a wobbler offense. A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by a jail term of up to one year and/or a maximum fine of $1,000, while a felony conviction carries a maximum prison sentence of up to five years.