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"Sexting" Teens Are Being Labeled Sex Offenders, Lawmakers Look to Change That

Teenager uses cell phone (AP/CBS) AP / CBS

NEW YORK (CBS/AP) Making ill-advised and reckless decisions is pretty much the norm for teens, but in many states one of those decisions - "sexting" - can saddle teens with a sex-offender label that will haunt them for decades. Now, more and more lawmakers are (finally) trying to fix that.

Recently, the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled that a prosecutor could not pursue felony charges against a teenage girl who appeared in racy photographs that made their way around her high school in 2008.

The decision marks the first time a criminal "sexting" case has reached the appeals court level, and could pave the way to more narrowly defining how cases involving minor-on-minor sex-related offenses are handled.

And many lawmakers say it's overdue.

Nebraska, Utah and Vermont have already reduced penalties for teenagers who engage in sexting, and 14 other states are considering measures that would treat sexting minors differently from adult pornographers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Florida, two Palm Beach County legislators are trying to change a state law that makes it a felony to receive or distribute nude photographs of minors by having it not apply to minors until the fourth offense, the Palm Beach Post reports.

"Most of these children are acting in an immature fashion," Rep. Joe Abruzzo told the paper. "And the law should have some leniency to make sure so that these children aren't branded as sex offenders for the rest of their lives."

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