Court Affirms Sexting Law Is Overly Broad

     St. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — A law preventing “grooming” of children for sexual abuse via the internet is unconstitutional, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled.
     Judge Peter Reyes wrote the June 23 opinion for a unanimous three-judge panel, affirming a federal court ruling that the law was so broad as to limit speech protected by the First Amendment.
     The original case began when a father reported finding sexually explicit images on his teen’s computer, the opinion states.
     A search warrant revealed 43-year-old Krista Muccio had sent the child the pictures, which included photos of a woman’s genitals, and had engaged in “sexually explicit conversations,” the opinion states.
     Muccio successfully asked the court to dismiss one of her charges as unconstitutional, and it stayed the child porn charge pending the state’s appeal.
     Local news reports refer to the now-overturned statue as a “sexting” law.
     “The statute criminalizes what is referred to as ‘grooming,’ the process by which sexual predators engage in sexually explicit conversations with a child and expose the child to pornographic material in an attempt to lower the child’s inhibitions and acclimate the child toward a sexual encounter,” Reyes wrote.
     But its language prohibits speech that is not directly related to the commission of a crime, the court ruled, because it does not address the actual solicitation of minors for sex.
     “Therefore, the prohibited speech is one step removed from speech which has, thus far, been recognized as speech which is integral to criminal conduct,” Reyes wrote.
     In its essence, the law prohibits speech made with the intent to arouse “any person” once that content is viewed by a child.
     Calling the law’s intent “laudable,” Reyes restated several examples from the district court that “illustrate the statute’s overbreadth” by criminalizing protected activities.
     “A music video producer creates a video with sexually explicit depictions or lyrics, with the intent to arouse the sexual desire of some person who views or listens to the video, places that video on social media, and a child age 15 or younger sees or hears it,” Reyes wrote, concluding that the producer could be found guilty of a crime under the statute in question.
     The court declined to add limiting language to the statute, stating that was the job of the legislature.
     Monica Jensen, community relations director for the Dakota County Attorney’s Office, said the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault is leading the charge on changing the language of the law.
     Reyes was joined in the opinion by Judges Kevin Ross and Tracy Smith.
     Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom prosecuted the case, along with assistant county attorney Jennifer Bovitz.
     Jensen confirmed in an email that the county is appealing the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
     Muccio was represented by John Westrick of Westrick & McDowall-Nix PLLP.

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