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Teens caught 'sexting' in New Jersey could avoid criminal charges

Parents, teachers and prosecutors are all looking for ways to battle the growing problem of teenager sexting: the sending of sexually explicit images by cell phones.

Some states, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Wisconsin, have chosen to prosecute teens on child pornography charges. A New Jersey lawmaker wants the Garden State to choose another way, preferring that first-time teen offenders be offered "a path that places education and forgiveness before arrest and prosecution."

Camden State Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt has sponsored a bill that aims to educate sexting teens without labeling them as sex offenders and damaging their futures with criminal records.

Lampitt said she's especially interested in helping teen girls understand the social and legal consequences of sexting. The practice includes sexual images of minors sent by cell phone as well as those sent by e-mail and then posted online.

The bill was unanimously approved in committee and will be voted on next by the full Assembly. If approved, it moves on to the Senate. If passed there, it would go to the governor's desk for a signature before becoming law.

The Associated Press reports that Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll of Morristown said, "There are certain aspects [of life] in which criminal law should not be involved, and this is one of them."

The law was introduced after a teenaged New Jersey girl was arrested and charged with child pornography and distribution of child porn after she allegedly posted photos of herself nude on a Web site.

She was later given probation and court-ordered counseling.

The proposed legislation would only apply to children without juvenile records.

Resource: Associated Press: "Bill would let 'sexting' NJ teens avoid charges": January 24, 2011