A 17-year-old in North Carolina faced charges for having naked pictures on his cell phone — of himself. In a logic-defying ruling, a court prosecuted the boy as an adult for the crime of sexually exploiting a minor (again, himself). “It’s dysfunctional to be charged with possession of your own image,” Justin Patchin, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and cofounder of the research website cyberbullying.org, told The Guardian. "I don’t think it should be a criminal offense where there is no victim.”
His girlfriend, 16, was similarly charged and accepted a plea deal earlier this summer. The Fayetteville, NC teen was also suspended from the football team and widely discussed on social media. He has now pleaded guilty and accepted a year of probation in order to avoid being registered as a sex offender and potentially serve prison time. (We're publishing the teen's name since it has been used widely in local reports.) Cormega Copening was 16 when authorities found the photos during another investigation into a larger alleged sexting problem at Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, NC. Like other states, North Carolina considers it a crime to possess sexual images of minors, regardless of the possessor's age. According to the high school's policy codes, students' personal cell phones may be confiscated and searched if school officials believe a student has used the phone in violation of the school's code. This includes sending and/or taking illicit messages or photographs. Though Copening had his photographs and those of his girlfriend on his cell phone — he did not share them more widely, The Guardian reports. Copening's Facebook page says he's been dating the teen girl he sent the photos to since September, 2014. In his profile picture, he's playing football, Copening was his high school's quarterback, but was temporarily suspended from the team as punishment. Recently he was reinstated, and played in a game on September 11.
North Carolina state law places the age of consent at 16, so if the two teens had been having sex, they weren't breaking any laws by doing so. But because North Carolina doesn't have explicit "sexting" laws, anyone under 18 who does decide to sext can be prosecuted under federal child pornography laws, and wind up labeled a sex offender.