Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire

The Superior Court has decided the case of In re: T.Q.B., rejecting a sufficiency challenge by the juvenile defendant who argued that because the images in question did not contain photos of the complainant’s actual nipple but instead showed only the bottom of her breast, they did not qualify under the statute’s definition of nudity. This is a concerning decision because such a broad interpretation of the statute allows for juvenile adjudications even where the person in the image that was transmitted had clothing on.

THE FACTS OF IN RE: T.Q.B.

On October 18, 2020, T.Q.B. went live on Instagram but told the victim, A.D., that the video they were making was private. T.Q.B. convinced A.D. to lift up her shirt and expose her bra and the bottom of her breast, below the nipple. T.Q.B. was 13 at the time of the video, A.D. was 12 years old at the time of the video and suffered from intellectual disabilities . The video was made public and shared for several months despite attempts by A.D.’s mother to remove the video from the internet. The video was also shared amongst peers at their school. Eventually, the police became involved, and they charged T.Q.B. with transmission of sexually explicit images by a minor and cyber harassment of a minor.

The Crimes Charged

The statutes define the crimes as:

§ 6321.  Transmission of sexually explicit images by minor.

(a)  Summary offense.–Except as provided in section 6312 (relating to sexual abuse of children), a minor commits a summary offense when the minor:

(1)  Knowingly transmits, distributes, publishes or disseminates an electronic communication containing a sexually explicit image of himself.

(2)  Knowingly possesses or knowingly views a sexually explicit image of a minor who is 12 years of age or older.

(b)  Misdemeanor of the third degree.–Except as provided in section 6312, a minor commits a misdemeanor of the third degree when the minor knowingly transmits, distributes, publishes or disseminates an electronic communication containing a sexually explicit image of another minor who is 12 years of age or older.

(c)  Misdemeanor of the second degree.–Except as provided in section 6312, a minor commits a misdemeanor of the second degree when, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, torment, harass or otherwise cause emotional distress to another minor, the minor:

(1)  makes a visual depiction of any minor in a state of nudity without the knowledge and consent of the depicted minor; or

(2)  transmits, distributes, publishes or disseminates a visual depiction of any minor in a state of nudity without the knowledge and consent of the depicted minor.

(d)  Application of section.–This section shall not apply to the following:

(1)  Conduct that involves images that depict sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or penetration, however slight, of the genitals or anus of a minor, masturbation, sadism, masochism or bestiality.

(2)  Conduct that involves a sexually explicit image of a minor if the image was taken, made, used or intended to be used for or in furtherance of a commercial purpose.

(e)  Forfeiture.–Any electronic communication device used in violation of this section shall be subject to forfeiture to the Commonwealth, and no property right shall exist in it.

(f)  Diversionary program.–The magisterial district judge or any judicial authority with jurisdiction over the violation shall give first consideration to referring a person charged with a violation of subsection (a) to a diversionary program under 42 Pa.C.S. § 1520 (relating to adjudication alternative program) and the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. As part of the diversionary program, the magisterial district judge or any judicial authority with jurisdiction over the violation may order the person to participate in an educational program which includes the legal and nonlegal consequences of sharing sexually explicit images. If the person successfully completes the diversionary program, the person’s records of the charge of violating subsection (a) shall be expunged as provided for under Pa.R.C.P. No.320 (relating to expungement upon successful completion of ARD program).

(g)  Definitions.–As used in this section, the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

“Disseminate.”  To cause or make an electronic or actual communication from one person, place or electronic communication device to two or more other persons, places or electronic communication devices.

“Distribute.”  To deliver or pass out.

“Electronic communication.”  As defined in section 5702 (relating to definitions).

“Knowingly possesses.”  The deliberate, purposeful, voluntary possession of a sexually explicit image of another minor who is 12 years of age or older. The term shall not include the accidental or inadvertent possession of such an image.

“Knowingly views.”  The deliberate, purposeful, voluntary viewing of a sexually explicit image of another minor who is 12 years of age or older. The term shall not include the accidental or inadvertent viewing of such an image.

“Minor.”  An individual under 18 years of age.

“Nudity.”  The showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering, the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple or the depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.

“Publish.”  To issue for distribution.

“Sexually explicit image.”  A lewd or lascivious visual depiction of a minor’s genitals, pubic area, breast or buttocks or nudity, if such nudity is depicted for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any person who might view such nudity.

“Transmit.”  To cause or make an electronic communication from one person, place or electronic communication device to only one other person, place or electronic communication device.

“Visual depiction.”  A representation by picture, including, but not limited to, a photograph, videotape, film or computer image.

(a.1)  Cyber harassment of a child.–

(1)  A person commits the crime of cyber harassment of a child if, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm, the person engages in a continuing course of conduct of making any of the following by electronic means directly to a child or by publication through an electronic social media service:

(i)  seriously disparaging statement or opinion about the child’s physical characteristics, sexuality, sexual activity or mental or physical health or condition; or

(ii)  threat to inflict harm.

(2)  (i)  If a juvenile is charged with a violation of paragraph (1), the judicial authority with jurisdiction over the violation shall give first consideration to referring the juvenile charged with the violation to a diversionary program under Pa.R.J.C.P. No. 312 (relating to Informal Adjustment) or No. 370 (relating to Consent Decree). As part of the diversionary program, the judicial authority may order the juvenile to participate in an educational program which includes the legal and nonlegal consequences of cyber harassment.

(ii)  If the person successfully completes the diversionary program, the juvenile’s records of the charge of violating paragraph (1) shall be expunged as provided for under section 9123 (relating to juvenile records).

The trial court adjudicated the juvenile delinquent of both offenses, and the juvenile appealed.

THE SUPERIOR COURT’S DECISION

First, the appellant challenged the ruling of “nudity” finding for 18 Pa.C.S. § 6321(c), arguing that what the video portrayed was not nudity per the statute and precedent. The crux of the appellant’s argument was that since the nipple was not exposed, this did not constitute nudity. The Superior Court acknowledged the limited precedent on the matter and focused primarily on the statute’s wording and definition. 18 Pa.C.S. § 6321(g) defines nudity as “the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple[.]” The Superior Court determined that because the bottom of the breast was exposed, this is below the top of the nipple and thus met the definition of “nudity” for the purposes of the statute and the juvenile court did not err in its determination.

Second, the appellant challenged the ruling that the video state was “seriously disparaging” and that there was insufficient evidence due to no showing of a physical manifestation of harm to meet 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a)(1). The Superior Court utilized the totality of the circumstances to determine that the repeated pressure for A.D. to expose herself, the lying about the video’s privacy, and the refusal to take the video down meant it was to be harassing in nature. The Superior Court reiterated that “[s]eriously disparaging statement or opinion” is that which “is intended to and under the circumstances is reasonably likely to cause substantial emotional distress to a child of the victim’s age and which produces some physical manifestation of the distress.” 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a)(1)(f). The Superior Court determined that an actual physical manifestation does not need to be nightmares, depression, or another physical ailment, but that A.D.’s humiliation is enough for physical manifestation. They also stated that it was reasonably likely due to the victim’s age and mental capacity to harm A.D. in conjunction with the extended period of time in which the video was allowed to be publicly viewed and circulated. The Superior Court deemed that the juvenile court did not err in finding that the appellant’s conduct was sufficient to be convicted on 18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a)(1).

 These are very, very broad readings of both statutes, and it is very possible that further appeals could take place as the Superior Court may consider granting en banc argument. The Supreme Court may also consider granting an appeal to review these definitions.

FACING CRIMINAL CHARGES? WE CAN HELP.

Zak T. Goldstein, Esquire – Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are facing criminal charges or under investigation by the police, we can help. We have successfully defended thousands of clients against criminal charges in courts throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We have successfully obtained full acquittals in cases involving charges such as Conspiracy, Aggravated Assault, Rape, and Murder. We have also won criminal appeals in state and federal court. Our award-winning Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers offer a free criminal defense strategy session to any potential client. Call 267-225-2545 to speak with an experienced and understanding defense attorney today.