The LA Times has followed the story of the warrant in a Manassas, Virginia “sexting” case that spurred an internet fury. The full story can be read here: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-manassas-sexting-photos-police-20140710-story.html
Thankfully, this story brought enough attention to bring this offensive abuse of law enforcement power to a halt.
The accused was a 17-year old boy. He had allegedly received a “sexting” SMS message from his 15-year old girlfriend, and sent one himself. The police received a complaint from the parent of the a girl. The boy was charged with manufacturing child pornography and possessing child pornography.
The boy was allegedly told to plea to the charged offense, or face a warrant compelling him to be taken to a hospital, have his genitalia injected to stimulate arousal, to be photographed for use in the trial. The police had previously photographed the boy’s genitalia.
This is fundamentally wrong for so many reasons, including the following. First, child-pornography statutes were enacted to remedy a completely-different societal harm than that at issue here. They are designed to protect children, not harm them. Second, the Milwaukee Police Department originally issued a statement implying that the warrant did not exist (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/local/wp/2014/07/09/manassas-city-police-release-statement-on-teen-sexting-case/). This was a lie disseminated to the public (however, they did not deny getting the warrant, they just stated it would violate their policy to do so). Third, it makes no sense to create child porn in the name of prosecuting it. Fourth, an accused should not be subjected to a greater injury than they are alleged of inflicting during an investigation of the offense.
In sum – this happened. There was a gross abuse of prosecutorial power. There was an inquiry into that abuse by the press. The Manassas City Police then lied to the press and public in a misleading statement denying the existence of the warrant. Then they were caught. And this all stemmed from a threat to subject a boy to an insanely traumatic procedure, in an effort to get him to plea to a horrific crime (aimed to guard against conduct that he did not engage in -- a child who exchanges photos of privates with their girlfriend is not a possessor or creator of child pornography). The plea would have destroyed his life. And for what purpose?
There will be no ramifications for the officer who sought the warrant, the agency that falsely denied its existence, the prosecutor who used it to threaten the boy to coerce a plea, or the magistrate who signed it.
Note -- on Thursday, July 17, 2014, we discussed this warrant on Wallach-on-Law with Jason Feldman, and a link to that show is here – http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wallachlaw/2014/07/10/george-zimmerman-verdict-one-year-later-with-don-west