The Transmission of Harmful Materials to a Minor by Electronic Device

Under Fla. Stat. 847.0138, adults are prohibited from transmitting materials that are deemed harmful to minors via electronic device or equipment. This includes using the internet or sending the material through text message or email. However, before a person can be convicted of this offense, prosecutors must prove that:
  • The defendant had actual knowledge or believed that the recipient was under the age of 18 years old
  • The defendant transmitted the material, which means that he or she sent it to a specific individual, known to be a minor, via electronic mail
Furthermore, this law applies to not only images but also information or data that is considered harmful to minors.

Penalties for Convictions

Those who are accused of committing this offense face third-degree felony charges, which are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. This is true regardless of whether the defendant sent the material from within the state of Florida, or sent it to a minor from outside of the state. In fact, individual transmissions can be charged as separate offenses. This means that if a defendant is accused of sending ten different messages containing harmful materials to a minor, he or she could face ten third degree felony charges, which could result in a 50-year prison sentence.

Defendants who are convicted of this crime are also required to register with the state’s sex offender registry, whether or not they were residents of the state at the time of the transmission. As long as there is proof that the material was knowingly sent to a minor who was in the state of Florida, a defendant can be required to comply with the state’s registration requirements, which means that he or she will need to:
  • Report to the sheriff’s office twice a year
  • Provide personal information to law enforcement officers, including their address, Social Security Number, date of birth, a description of their physical appearance, fingerprints, photographs, vehicle information, email addresses, telephone numbers, and their place of occupation
  • Update their driver’s license within 48 hours of relocating
  • Notify law enforcement officials immediately after purchasing a new car
  • Provide officers with itinerary details if traveling out of state
  • Comply with restrictions regarding where they can live and work
The defendant’s information will also be available on the registry’s website to those who live in the community.

Federal Law: Transmitting Obscene Material to Minors

It is also a crime under federal law 18 U.S.C. 1470, to knowingly transfer obscene material to minors who are under the age of 16 years old using the mail or another facility or means of interstate commerce. Defendants who are convicted face up to ten years in prison and hefty fines, even if they only attempted to transfer such materials. Furthermore, those who are convicted of federal sex crimes involving children are often required to register on the nation’s sex offender registry. However, before a person can be convicted of transferring obscene material to a minor, prosecutors will need to prove that the defendant knew that the recipient had not yet turned 16 years old. The material in question will also need to fall under the definition of obscene, which means that:
  • An average person, applying current community standards, would find that the material appeals to an erotic, lascivious, degrading, or morbid interest in nudity or sex
  • An average person, applying adult community standards, would find that the material depicts sexual conduct in an offensive way, which includes ultimate sex acts, whether actual or simulated, masturbation, lewd exhibition, and abuse
  • A reasonable person would find that the material lacks serious literary, artistic, or scientific value
Material that satisfies this test will be considered obscene. However, if the defendant is able to establish that he or she did not know the minor’s age, or that there is a question as to whether the material qualifies as obscene, he or she could have the charges reduced or dismissed.

Transmitting Child Pornography via an Electronic Device

Although it is considered a serious criminal offense to use electronic equipment to send harmful materials to minors, it is also unlawful in Florida, under Fla. Stat. 847.0137 to transmit pornography featuring minors to anyone through an electronic device. As long as a person knew or should have known that he or she was transmitting child pornography, he or she can be charged with a third-degree felony. Those who live outside of the state of Florida, but send pornographic material to someone within the state, can also be charged under this statute.
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