While it’s not breaking news that people are on their phones nonstop these days, it may be news to many that there’s a chance the texts and images they send to friends or share in social media violate federal and state obscenity laws. That’s why it’s important to know the potential consequences of your electronic communications.

The distribution of obscene material is illegal under federal law and can result in a criminal indictment. The U.S. Supreme Court has established a three-pronged test to determine what material may be considered obscene under the law:

  1. If an average person considers the material to appeal to prurient interests, as in overtly sexual, degrading or shameful content.
  2. If an average person finds that the material exhibits sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, as in perverted behavior, lewdness or excretory content.
  3. If an average person thinks that the material as a whole lacks any type of artistic, literary, political or scientific value.

Any material that satisfies all three prongs of this test can be considered obscene.

Federal law imposes greater penalties for obscene images of minors. Defendants may face from 10 to 20 years in federal prison. An image depicting a minor is obscene if it is graphically sexual in nature and it lacks any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

The unlawful dissemination of an intimate image, commonly referred to as revenge porn, is a misdemeanor under Pennsylvania law. While many people in a relationship share private messages, images or videos for their significant other’s eyes only, making that material public to embarrass, humiliate or shame the other person can result in a $5,000 fine and up to a year in prison. If you face any sex crime charge, it’s essential to seek representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

If you have questions about any electronic communications involving sexual content, Matthew R. Zatko, Attorney at Law is prepared to advise you on potential consequences. To schedule a free consultation at my Somerset office, call 814-443-1631 or contact me online.