Sexting is a crime when the sender or the recipient of the text is a minor. Pursuant to the child pornography statue, a "minor" is defined as "any person not having reached eighteen (18) years of age." There is currently no legal definition of "sexting" under Rhode Island General Laws and instead "sexting" is considered child pornography if it involves a minor.
The child pornography statute, R.I. Gen. Laws 11-9-1.3(c), states the following:
(1) "Child pornography" means any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct where:
(i) The production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;
(ii) Such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
(iii) Such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to display an identifiable minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
According to the current law, a minor who takes the picture or image for the purpose of sexting can be charged with "knowingly produc[ing] child pornography." A minor who then sends the image through a text, e-mail, live Internet feed, etc, to another person is "knowingly mail[ing], transport[ing], deliver[ing] or transfer[ing] by any means, including by computer, child pornography." Any recipient who receives the image and then forwards it to another person is "knowingly reproduc[ing] child pornography."
The penalties for violating the child pornography statute include "a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or imprisoned for not more than fifteen (15) years, or both." Merely having an image on a computer or cell phone amounts to "knowingly possess[ing] any...material that contains an image of child pornography." The penalties for knowingly possessing child pornography include "a fine of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or imprisoned not more than five (5) years, or both."
A recent example of the potential criminal liability in connection with "sexting" is the North Smithfield Girls' Soccer Coach who was arrested on charges that he alleged sent sexually explicit text messages to two (2) students. The Coach was arraigned before the 3rd Division District Court on charges of indecent solicitation of a child, possession of child pornography and possession of marijuana.
In July of 2006, Attorney Robert H. Humphrey was appointed by Governor Carcieri to serve on the Sex Offender Board of Review. The Board is charged with the duty to determine the level of risk a sex offender poses to the community and to assist the Sentencing Court to determine if the offender is a sexually violent predator. In 2005, Attorney Humphrey's article entitled: Surveying Sex Crimes Law in Rhode Island was published in the Rhode Island Bar Journal.