COMMENTARY: I have been busy today working hard on the Senate floor to secure bipartisan passage of legislation to toughen penalties on repeat DWI offenders.
I live in the real world. That is why I offered an amendment to HB 65 in the Senate Finance Committee. Preventing criminal prosecution of teenagers who consensually exchange explicit images does not condone the conduct; it just prevents stupid, adolescent behavior from having life-changing criminal consequences.
Even the United States Supreme Court acknowledged this fact when it recently noted: “As any parent knows and as the scientific and sociological studies tend to confirm, a lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults. … These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions.”
While most prosecutors can be relied upon to exercise their discretion responsibly, it is the Legislature’s obligation to ensure that no prosecutor will pursue a case involving consensual sharing of images between two teenagers.
The amendment adopted by the Senate Finance Committee draws that boundary for prosecutors while still allowing the prosecution of adults for all child pornography crimes. It also allows the prosecution of teenagers who possess, create or disclose private images without permission.
Finally, as a practical matter, the amendment was necessary to ensure bipartisan committee support for HB 65, and to facilitate its success on the Senate floor.
It is vitally important that lawmakers do their best to mitigate unintended consequences when passing new laws or modifying current laws. I am a very strong proponent of strengthening the laws regarding the manufacturing, distribution and possession of heinous lewd sexual acts involving infants, children and adolescents. Those who participate in this immoral, sick behavior should face legal consequences.
To imprison consenting teenagers who make the mistake of sending texts that are inappropriate, however, is just bad policy.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”
As I have said many times, I am committed to protecting our children in all circumstances.
Muñoz, D-Gallup, represents District 4 in the New Mexico Senate.