It’s apparently illegal for underage teens to take naked pictures of themselves in North Carolina. At least that’s what Cormega Copening is discovering. He’s charged with three felonies for sending naked pictures of himself to his girlfriend, and getting one in return. He was 16 when the pictures were taken, but is still being charged as an adult. Reason’s Robby Soave calls it a nightmare out of Kafka and he may be right because it’s not illegal for North Carolina teens to have sex. They just can’t send naked photos to each other (emphasis mine).
But consider this: North Carolina is one of two states in the country (the other is progressive New York) that considers 16 to be the age of adulthood for criminal purposes. This mean, of course, that Copening can be tried as an adult for exploiting a minor—himself.
That’s right folks, under North Carolina law Copening exploited HIMSELF. Is this even possible? Seriously, it doesn’t make any sense for Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputies to sit there and say, “Okay, this 16-year-old sent naked photos of himself, so we’ve got to charge him as an adult.” This surreal experience is right out of a Bizarro Superman or Seinfeld for that matter. It’s just completely baffling and makes my brain hurt in trying to figure out what authorities were thinking. But Sergeant Sean Swain told WTVD deputies were just following the law.
We seized his phone and while our investigators went through the phone they saw there were photos of himself and another person on the phone. Simple possession having it on your cell phone is a charge itself, and if you should send it out to another person that is another charge.
Swaim did say the phone seizure was part of a rape investigation, without going into more detail. They didn’t say if Copening was a suspect or was an associate of the suspect. They didn’t even say if the case was still going on. So deputies need to be more forthcoming, or else they’re going to keep being pummeled in the media.
One thing which is interesting is Fayetteville Observer’s report that they could not find a search warrant on record which allowed deputies to go through Copening’s phone. So if that’s the case, then it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment and the evidence shouldn’t be admissible in trial. That might make the county’s case more difficult, pushing them to settle with Copening. His girlfriend was also charged in the case, but prosecutors reached a plea deal for a misdemeanor. Those charges would later disappear from her record, if she’s able to adhere to terms of her probation. Should Copening do the same thing? Maybe, but the question is whether he should have been arrested in the first place. He didn’t take advantage of anyone, except maybe his own parents if they gave him the cell phone he used. Do parents now have to say to children, “Now don’t send naked pics of yourself to your girlfriend because you might go to jail”? That doesn’t seem right.
Maybe this is just the new normal when it comes to technology and sex. Instead of boys climbing up trees to get into their girlfriend’s room, they can now just send nude pictures. But a felony? Seems preposterous, but that’s not what the Sheriff’s Office is saying. They seem baffled people think Copening and his girlfriend shouldn’t have been arrested.
“I am very surprised at the response to this case. I would not have figured this simple case would have generated as much media exposure as it has.”
The problem is this case isn’t simple at all. If anything, authorities are making it more complicated because the teens were consensual. The photos never went anywhere else and no one else saw them. The sexual exploitation laws are supposed to catch bad guys, like the Fayetteville teen accused of getting images of various teens and posting them online. Copening and his girlfriend don’t appear to fall in this category. So why arrest them?
It’s easy to treat this case like a joke, but it isn’t. Copening’s reputation is shot, not to mention that of his girlfriend’s. He’s lost his spot on the high school football team, where he was quarterback. He may have to spend time in prison and be considered as a sex offender for the rest of his life, if convicted. All for being stupid and consensually sending a nude photo to his girlfriend. Tom Meyer at Ricochet suggests the North Carolina government should tweak the sexting law so it doesn’t capture consensual, underage teens. He’s right. But it’s also up to authorities to not be so rigid when it comes to the law. If the teens can have sex without fear of jail time, why can’t they send nude photos without feat of jail time? It just doesn’t make sense.