There is a bizarre search warrant that has been obtained by the Manassas City Police to photograph the erect penis of a 17-year-old facing felony child-pornography charges. The charges are based on the teen sending an explicit video to his 15-year-old girlfriend. Worse yet, if the boy does not “cooperate,” the police intend to take him to a hospital to have him aroused by injection. [Update: police have said that they will decline to execute the warrant after the public outcry].
The case is in juvenile court and the response of prosecutors and police shows a complete lack of judgment or restraint. The charging of teens for sextexting remains highly controversial. We are turned children into felons for personal pictures shared with boyfriends or girlfriends. Now, these Manassas officers and prosecutors are not only building a felony case against a minor but taking this bizarre step. The necessity of such an examination is highly questionable, but the emotional impact on the teenager is obvious. They have already photographed his genitals when he was arrested in January.
It is also controversial to charge a teenager with child-pornography for taking pictures of his own genitals and sharing it with his girlfriend. It is likely that she has seen his genitals given their relationship and there is no allegation that this was done for wider distribution or for money. Yet, they are accusing him of manufacturing and distributing child pornography.
The girlfriend’s mother called police and insists that he was repeatedly told to stop sending the images. This is clearly a serious problem but the need to resort to the criminal justice system remains a concern. She could have secured an restraining order — the violation of which would bring potential criminal penalties.
The police and prosecutor appears virtually obsessed with the case given its procedural history. Detective David E. Abbott, the lead investigator on the case, has refused to return calls. However, the case began with the girlfriend, not the defendant, sending photos of herself to the boy. Yet, she has not be charged. Instead, he was served with petitions from juvenile court in early February, but not arrested. The case however was dismissed due to an error by prosecutors. They then however obtained new charges and a search warrant. They then arrested him and secured this absurd warrant. The defense attorney says that Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Claiborne Richardson told her that her client must either plead guilty or police would obtain another search warrant “for pictures of his erect penis.” If that is the case, this is even more serious since it sounds like this abusive warrant was used to try to pressure a plea. Richardson then appeared in court to try to stop the teen from traveling until he submitted to the degrading photographs.
The fact that a Northern Virginia magistrate approved a new search warrant shows the lack of any real review in such cases. This warrant is both abusive and unnecessary. The effort to convict the boy of two felonies shows a complete refusal to exercise an ounce of prosecutorial discretion or for that matter judgment. While this story has been the source of jokes, I do not find it funny in the slightest degree. The people of Manassas need to seriously review the performance of their police and prosecutors in this case. Clearly, crime does not appear to be a serious problem in the city for these officers and prosecutors to take such extraordinary actions in such a case.
None of this belittles the problem of sextexting. However, these cases represent the continued criminalization of our society where every social ill is translated into a felony. We have been discussing the trend toward suspending and expelling students (and teachers) for comments that they make on social media (here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Some of these charges can saddle a kid with a registration as a sex offender as well as a felony record. However, adults are now just passing them over to a criminal justice system to be processed as criminals.
When adults start to secure warrants to force a child to produce an erection to be photographed, we have lost any sense of balance and judgment in our society. Whatever the dangers presented by sextexting are, they pale in comparison to the dangers inherent in his brutal response of the Manassas police and prosecutors.
While Clairborne Richardson has been listed as the lead prosecutor in this case, Paul B. Ebert is the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Prince William County clearly deserves much of the criticism for failing to properly supervise his subordinate. I have previously criticized Ebert for his lack of prosecutorial discretion in the Kevin Kelly case. It appears that the voters in Prince William County continue to support such excessive prosecutorial actions.
Source: USA Today