sexting laws in colorado

With the rise in cell phone use and electronic messaging, sexting occurs frequently among adults and, increasingly, among teens.

Sexting or sex texting involves the sending and receiving of sexually explicit images or videos by cell phone, email, or similar digital communication.

While consenting adults may legally sext with one another, exchanging sexually explicit images or videos with a minor is a serious criminal offense. Violators face substantial fines and possible prison sentences.

Sexting Laws in Colorado

Two adults who consent to sexting may do so legally in Colorado. However, serious legal concerns arise when one or both of the people involved are under 18 years of age. Crimes involving sexting are very serious and carry significant penalties. 

Sexual Exploitation of a Child

In Colorado, sending or receiving sexually explicit messages from a minor constitutes a serious crime.

Under Colorado Statute 18-6-403, sexual exploitation of a child occurs when someone:

  • Causes or allow a child to participate in activities to create sexually explicit material;
  • Prepares, publishes, or distributes the sexually exploitative material; or
  • Possesses the material for any purpose.

Colorado takes sexual exploitation of a child very seriously. An adult charged with sexual exploitation of a child may face either a Class 3, 4, or 6 felony charges depending on the circumstances of the case. 

Internet Sexual Exploitation of a Minor

Colorado created a separate law dealing specifically with internet sexual exploitation.

Internet sexual exploitation of a minor occurs when a person knowingly invites or encourages a child through a computer, telephone, or data network to:

  • Expose or touch themselves while communicating electronically; 
  • Touch another person’s private parts; or
  • View the offender’s private parts.

Internet sexual exploitation is considered a Class 4 felony.

Consent Is Not a Defense to Sexual Exploitation of a Child

In Colorado minors under age 18 cannot consent to the creation or sharing of sexually explicit images. Thus, even if a minor voluntarily agrees to sexting, an adult who sends or receives sexually explicit images from a minor may still face criminal charges.

Sexting and Teens

In the past, teens who shared sexually explicit materials could face felony child exploitation charges. However, in 2017 the Colorado legislature passed a bill that replaces felony charges with less severe penalties for teens who violate the law.

The new law created a three-tiered system that classifies the offense based on the teen’s actions and the circumstances of each case.


A teen commits a posting offense when the teen:

  • Knowingly distributes, displays or publishes an image of another minor who is at least 14 and is less than 4 years younger than the teen;
  • Sends an image of himself or herself to another teen if the teen didn’t request it and it causes emotional distress; or
  • The teen who posted the image knew or should have known the other teen expected privacy.

Teens who commit posting offenses face criminal misdemeanor charges. 


Possession is a less serious offense. It occurs when a teen knowingly possesses an image of another minor who is at least 14 or is less than 4 years younger without the teen’s permission.

Possession charges are considered petty offenses with less serious punishments.


Exchanging is the least serious offense and occurs when a teen:

  • Knowingly sends an image of him or herself to another who is at least 14 or is less than 4 years younger and reasonably believed the person receiving the message agreed; or
  • Knowingly possesses an image of a person who is at least 14 years or less than 4 years younger.

Exchanging charges are considered civil infractions, meaning the teen will not have a criminal record if found guilty.  

Penalties for Sexting Criminal Charges 

If you are facing criminal sexting charges, you may suffer serious consequences if found guilty. 

You should contact an attorney right away to help you understand your rights and defend you in court. Penalties differ in Colorado depending on the age of the offender and the circumstances of each case.

Penalties for Adults

Sexting charges for adults range from Class 4 to Class 6 felonies.

Under Colorado’s sexual exploitation statute, first-time offenders in possession of still photographs will normally face Class 5 felony charges for sexual exploitation of a child.

Penalties for Class 5 felonies include:

  • One to three years in prison and
  • Between $1,000 and $100,000 monetary penalties.

However, a charge may be increased to a Class 4 felony if:

  • The offender possessed sexually explicit videos or other moving visual images of the child;
  • The offender has a previous charge for the same crime; or
  • The offender has more than 20 images in his or her possession.

Class 4 felonies carry harsher penalties including:

  • Between two and six years in prison and
  • Fines between $2,000 and $500,000.

In addition to facing prison and monetary penalties, people convicted of sex crimes must register as sex offenders in Colorado. Finally, sex crimes can never be expunged or sealed, meaning the conviction could affect you the rest of your life.

Penalties for Teens

In 2017 the Colorado Legislature passed new sexting laws to address how teens are punished for sexting offenses. Teens now face less severe penalties if convicted of sexting charges.

Although the penalties were reduced, teens still face serious consequences for sexting charges.

Teens convicted of posting sexually explicit material of a minor face class 2 misdemeanor charges. Penalties for class 2 misdemeanors include up to 12 months in jail and/or fines up to $1,000.

Posting charges can be increased to class 1 misdemeanors if the teen:

  • Intended to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or cause emotional distress;
  • Had previously committed the same offense; or
  • Has posted three or more images of separate persons. 

Teens charged with Class 1 misdemeanors face penalties of up to 18 months in jail and fines of up to $5,000.

Teens charged with possession face possible fines and up to six months in jail.

Teens charged with exchanging will not face criminal charges. Courts may require teens convicted of exchanging to complete an educational course or pay a fine of up to $50. 

Contact a Qualified Criminal Defense Attorney

Sexting charges are very serious, and convictions can have lifelong consequences. The experienced team at Miller Leonard, P.C., understands the life-changing effects of sex-offense convictions. If you are facing sexting charges, we believe you deserve the best possible legal defense.

Our criminal defense attorney Miller Leonard has more than 19 years of experience handling more than one thousand criminal cases. He will use his extensive experience and knowledge of criminal law to build you a strong legal defense.

Our team provides hands-on, personalized service, and we will make sure you have the support you need. For a free consultation, call our offices at 720-613-8783 or fill out an online form today. 


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