Minn. court: Anti-‘sexting’ law violates free speech

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has found a key provision of a law designed to prevent using the internet to contact children about sex unconstitutional.

The court ruled in the case of Krista Ann Muccio, a cafeteria worker at Simley High School and Inver Grove Heights Middle School in Inver Grove Heights, who was “sexting” a 15-year old boy.

Under state law, a person over 18 who uses the internet, phone, or computer system to solicit sex is guilty of a felony by “engaging in communication with a child or someone the person reasonably believes is a child, relating to or describing sexual conduct.”

A Dakota County judge found that provision violates free expression and the three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals today agreed.

It said “The government may not prohibit speech because it increases the chance an unlawful act will be committed ‘at some indefinite future time.’”

Judge Peter Reyes said in today’s decision that the statute is overly broad and could ensnare people that were never targeted by the Legislature.

The district court gave several examples that illustrate the statute’s overbreadth which we find persuasive and reiterate here. A music video producer creates a video with sexually explicit depictions or lyrics, with the intent to arouse the sexual desire of some person who views or listens to the video, places that video on social media, and a child age 15 or younger sees or hears it.

A film producer produces a movie with sex scenes, with the intent to arouse the sexual desire of some person who views the film, makes that movie available on an Internet streaming service, and a child age 15 or younger sees it.

A writer of young-adult fiction electronically publishes a book describing a sex scene, with the intent to arouse the sexual desire of any one of the book’s readers, and a child age 15 or younger reads it. All of these acts are criminalized under [Minnesota law].

“The state is undoubtedly attempting to prohibit speech which poses a risk to vulnerable children,” the judge acknowledged, but while “the statute’s aim is laudable, the law is unconstitutionally overbroad because the ‘restriction goes well beyond that interest by restricting the speech available to law-abiding adults.’”

Reyes said any attempt by the court to find the statute constitutional would amount to an invasion of the Legislature’s turf.