Feb 16, 2017
Two years ago, a Virginia teenager named Zachary became involved in a social media relationship with a 13-year-old girl who shared his interest in computers, videogames, and fantasy fiction. As is often the case for people of their age, their relationship – such as it was – proved to be entirely virtual in nature, and their online exchanges were not always appropriate.
Shortly after Zachary turned 18, his online pen pal sent him five self-portraits in which she was clad in underwear. Those photos were found by police investigators after the young girl, who had been subjected to involuntary psychiatric confinement amid her parents’ tumultuous divorce, told a counselor about sending them.
Despite the fact that he had never touched the girl who sent the unsolicited photos, Zachary was arrested and charged with twenty felonies, including “indecent liberties with a minor,” “using a computer to propose sex,” and production of child pornography – even though the pictures did not meet the legal definition of pornography. He was threatened with a possible maximum prison sentence of 350 years.
Like many others in similar straits, Zachary accepted a deal in which he pleaded guilty to two counts of “indecent liberties with a minor.” Despite the fact that he never met the girl in person, and two psychological evaluations found no evidence of violent or distorted views of sex, the teenager will be required to register as a violent sex offender for the rest of his life.
Reason magazine points out that the teenager, who has been imprisoned without trial for more than a year, had no previous criminal record apart from one count of distracted driving.