Federal Court Enjoins Pennsylvania Prosecutor From Charging Teens in Sexting Case

george20skumanickThere is a very interesting case out of Pennsylvania where U.S. District Judge James M. Munley granted a temporary injunction to prevent Wyoming County District Attorney George Skumanick Jr. (left) from charging three teen girls who appeared in seminude photographs traded by classmates. A common practice called “sexting.” It is extremely uncommon to see an injunction of a criminal charge.

Skumanick’s lack of judgment in this matter may have warranted extreme action from the court. Recently, prosecutors llike Skumanich have been charge teenagers with pornography crimes for trading pictures of themselves. These charges show a complete failure to use prosecutorial discretion and a willingness to turn teens into felons for conduct that should be the subject of parental not criminal review.

Nevertheless, the view of many courts is that such challenges should be made in the context of the criminal case and not in a separate action. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and constitutes no small legal feat. I agree with the court that, putting aside the procedural questions, there is a serious free speech concern raised by Skumanick’s crackdown.

It appears that Skumanick is threatening a variety of Tunkhannock Area School District students, as many as 20 threatened with child pornography charges.

Skumanick charged the girls even though the pictures reportedly show two of the girls in their bras or one with a girl just out of the shower and topless but with a towel wrapped around her waist. That strikes many as a touch of the Taliban as Skumanick uses criminal prosecution to punish teenage conduct.

The school officials who called in the police are equally worthy of criticism. What happened to the day when school officials called parents and handled these matters privately? Instead, they allowed Skumanick to turn this into a national circus by treating the teens as felons. The lack of judgment shown by the teens was exceeded by the lack of judgment of the officials and particularly Skumanick.

Skumanick faces a challenge for reelection this year and could be sent back to private practice.

For the full story, click here.

15 thoughts on “Federal Court Enjoins Pennsylvania Prosecutor From Charging Teens in Sexting Case”

  1. Just following up. This case was settled for $33K:


    A Pennsylvania teen who stored intimate photos of herself on her cell phone — but never e-mailed or shared them with anyone other than her longtime boyfriend — settled her federal privacy case against high school officials who had seized the phone without a warrant and turned it over to prosecutors. According to the U.K. Daily Mail, the school agreed to pay the teen and her attorneys $33,000.

  2. There is an update to this case today.

    One of the girls caught “sexting” is suing Wyoming County authorities and school officials, accusing them of violating several constitutional rights when they seized her cell phone and looked through its contents at the start of the sexting controversy, according the Intelligencer. The plaintiff, now 19, and her legal team at Cozen and the ACLU claim school officials had the right to seize the girl’s phone but not to look at the photos inside.

    Note also the comments about the conduct of the lead detective in the case:

    She also accuses the lead detective investigating the sexting case of saying during questioning that “it was a shame” the girl had not waited until her eighteeth birthday to take the photos, since, had she been old enough, “she could have submitted the photographs directly to Playboy magazine.”


  3. Mespo,

    Perhaps the focus on the fanatic is so sharp because the fanatic still sits in a position of authority threatening to ruin teenager’s lives by coercing them into the fanatics idea of morality, to follow his will or face a lifetime on a registry of sex offenders.

    All for what is a common teenaged indiscretion.

    We used to play Spin the bottle and truth or dare, these normal teen activities have now become digitized. And Skumanic’s discretionary authority says he needs to brand them with the Scarlet letter for life.

    Bravo for the intervention and such, but the intervention should never have been necessary to begin with, if not for Skumanic the Fanatic.

  4. Mespo.

    “Are there no officials with poor judgment in Australia?”

    Of course there are. Recently an Australian court found a man guilty of possessing child pornography, nude cartoons of characters from the TV cartoon series “The Simpsons”. This is world class stupidity.

  5. Carlyle:

    “What ingredients make a good prosecutor or judge in the United States of Moral Panic sometimes referred to as the USA.”


    I find it interesting that you focus on the acts of the fanatic rather than the judge who intervened to alleviate the problem. Are there no officials with poor judgment in Australia?

  6. What ingredients make a good prosecutor or judge in the United States of Moral Panic sometimes referred to as the USA.

    A goodly amount of righteous hate and of the fierce joy at wrecking the lives of evil doers as early as possible. Membership of the Ku Kux Klan probably does no harm either.

    Skumanik sounds perfect.

  7. Skumanick sounds like just the type to post a picture of himself in a thong on his myspace/facebook page! What everyone wrote above about this case was great.

  8. I agree with the previous comments on this thread. Mr. Skumanick is engaging in the cheapest form of grandstanding. I’m certain there are matters pending in his office much more worthy of his attention.

  9. People coming from an anti-sex perspective, usually fundamentalists, have always used children and sex as an excuse for enforcing their views. Because of sensationalized cases involving sexual abuse of children they have pushed to make the laws and their enforcement draconian. Sexual predators deserve draconian punishment in my view, even life sentences, but then a line needs to be drawn. A 17 year old boy having sex with a 16 year old girl is not sexual abuse, nor is a bunch of teens distributing nude photos. We need to not let the people who are anti-sex (and usually anti-woman) dominate the debate on dealing with these issues. While JT notes that the DA is coming up for election and this could hurt him, from his perspective maybe he thought it would help.
    By the way I’m a father of daughters and have a granddaughter.

  10. Bron,

    No, my 1950s/60s polaroid prints faded many, many years ago…

  11. Most of us who are responsible parents would strongly disapprove of our kids’ sexting; however, charging a criminal felony penalty for such acts as child pornography is contemptible.

    Like it or not, young teenage girls legally wear thong swimsuits in public that expose almost all of their bodies. As a father, I would prefer the 1950s dressing styles for young girls, especially. However, I just knew that the #1 1960 hit song “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” by Brian Hyland would lead to string thongs and then sexting, but no one would listen to me back then.

  12. Puzzling,
    wouldn’t that be the parent’s job? Who sets the standard for “what it means to be a girl in today’s society”? Is it the gov’t job to set social norms?

    As a parent, I don’t understand why children are given this type of technology and it isn’t expected they would do something stupid. When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to answer the phone let alone have one. The reaction of the school is no suprise. Over reaction is the norm. Remember when a 13 yo girl was strip searched for possessing an Ibuprophen? http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/01/16/teen.strip.search/index.html

  13. When did a teenager in a bra become child pornography?

    From an article on the five week re-education course that this prosecutor personally devised in exchange for dropping felony charges:

    “… an outline for the five-week course says the program would help the girls to understand why their conduct was wrong as well as ‘what it means to be a girl in today’s society.’ “

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