Selling or Distributing Harmful materials to a Minor

According to Fla. Stat. 847.012, Florida law prohibits knowingly selling, renting, or loaning any of the following materials to a minor in exchange for money:
  • Any picture, photo, drawing, sculpture, movie, or similar visual representation if it depicts nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, sexual battery, abuse, or bestiality, and is harmful to minors
  • Any book, pamphlet, magazine, printed matter, or sound recording that contains explicit and detailed narrative accounts or verbal descriptions of sexual excitement or conduct, and is harmful to minors
However, this law does not apply to the exhibition of movies or shows, as this type of conduct is regulated under a different criminal statute.

Important Definitions

A person can only be convicted of selling or distributing harmful materials to a minor if a prosecutor can demonstrate that he or she acted knowingly in doing so. Under Florida law, a person has acted knowingly if he or she had general knowledge of or a reason to know that the material in question was harmful to minors, the nature of which warranted further inquiry of:
  • The character and content of any of the aforementioned material
  • The age of the minor
Prosecutors must also be able to prove that the material in question was actually harmful to minors, which under state law, means any reproduction, description, exhibition, or presentation that depicts sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or nudity, if it:
  • Primarily appeals to an erotic or shameful interest
  • Is patently offensive to current standards in the local community in regards to what is considered suitable material for minors
  • Taken as a whole, is without serious artistic, literary, political or scientific value for minors
A mother’s breastfeeding of her child never falls under this category.

Distributing Harmful Material on School Grounds

In 2013, the Florida Legislature made it a separate offense for an adult to knowingly distribute harmful material that contains sexual conduct to minors on school property. This law also prohibits the posting of such material on school grounds, which includes:
  • Kindergartens
  • Elementary schools
  • Middle schools
  • Junior high schools
  • Secondary schools
This is true regardless of whether the school is public or private. However, this statute specifically excludes the distribution of school-approved instructional materials that were designed to serve as a tool for assisting in the teaching of a course or subject by a teacher.

Prohibited Defenses and Potential Penalties

Those who are charged with selling or distributing pornographic materials to a minor cannot raise defenses related to the minor’s age, including that:
  • They did not know the minor’s age
  • The minor lied about his or her age
  • They legitimately believed that the minor was over the age of 18 years old
  • The minor consented to the distribution of the harmful materials
Defendants who are convicted of this offense face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each crime. Because each forbidden act or transaction is considered a separate offense under this statute, a person could be charged with multiple counts of selling or distributing harmful materials.

Using a Minor in the Production of Pornographic Material

Regardless of whether the material is intended for or is actually distributed to minors, it is unlawful in Florida to knowingly use a minor in the production of harmful material involving sexual conduct.

Federal Law

Federal law also prohibits using the internet to distribute obscene or harmful materials to minors. For example, 18 U.S.C. 2252B prohibits the use of misleading domain names on the internet if the person posting the information had the intent to deceive a minor into viewing harmful materials. Those who are convicted of this offense face ten years in prison. However, domain names that include words that indicate the sexual nature of the site, including “porn” or “sex” are not considered misleading.

Another federal law, found in 47 U.S.C. 223, makes it unlawful to:
  • Use an interactive computer service to send an image or other obscene communication to a specific person under the age of 18 years old
  • Use an interactive computer service to display in a manner available to minors, any image, or other communication that is considered obscene
This offense is punishable by up to two years imprisonment. Finally, transferring or attempting to transfer obscene matter to a minor under the age of 16 years old, by using the U.S. mails or another means of interstate or foreign commerce, is punishable under 18 U.S.C. 1470 by up to ten years in prison.
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