Sexual predators who use social media to lure teenagers would face felony charges under a bill that won preliminary approval in the Colorado Senate on Monday.
House Bill 1030 was initially introduced to deal with cases such as one in Moffat County last year.
There, Moffat County High School teacher and coach Justin Folley was acquitted in December on 10 felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child because current law doesn't cover messages that contain no photos or videos or if the victim is at least 15 years old and younger than 18 years old.
Folley had been accused of sending sexually explicit messages and images over the social media app known as Snapchat. But because that app automatically deletes messages after a short time, there were no images that could be used as evidence in the case.
As a result, Folley was found not guilty on all counts.
The two Senate sponsors of the bill, Sens. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, said the law already applies if victims are 14 years of age and under, but it doesn't for those from 15 to 17.
"We believe that a person in a position of trust should not be allowed to do this to 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds," Zenzinger said.
"Over a period of time, there were explicit sexual exploitation of every definition," Rankin added, referring to the Folley case. "There were actually text that definitely exhibited that kind of behavior. Unfortunately, the photos that went along with it were on Snapchat … but those pictures go away after a while and are not retrievable. The defendant was actually acquitted because of two loopholes (in the law)."
The bill fills both.
Under it, a person can be found guilty of the new crime of unlawful electronic sexual communication if he or she knowingly importunes, invites or entices through a computer, telephone or data network someone who is at least four years younger whom they know to be 15 to 17 years old.
The bill makes it a class 6 felony for each count, which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a maximum $100,000 fine. If someone has such electronic contact with the intent to meet for sexual purposes, the crime would be a class 5 felony, punishable by up to 3 years in jail with the same maximum fine.
The measure, first introduced by Reps. Matt Soper, R-Delta, and Dylan Roberts, D-Avon, cleared the House late last month on a bipartisan 58-7 vote.
It needs one last vote in the Senate, but because of a minor change, it must head back to the House for a final vote before it can be sent to the governor's desk.