Federal appeals court says police in a “sexting” case violated a teenager’s right not to be unreasonably searched. The teen has sued the detective, who later committed suicide.
The teenage “sexting” case that attracted national attention in 2014 is enshrined in federal case law, the Washington Post reports. A police detective who obtained search warrants to photograph a teenager’s genitalia violated the teen’s Fourth Amendment right not to be unreasonably searched, a federal appeals court ruled, reviving a lawsuit against the detective that had been thrown out by a lower court. A dissenting judge wrote that the ruling could cause police to be less aggressive in their investigations. The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit came in the case of Trey Sims, who was 17 when police in Manassas, Va., and prosecutors in Prince William County, Va., began investigating him for sending a video of his genitalia to his 15-year-old girlfriend by text message. Manassas Detective David Abbott claimed that he was instructed to obtain the warrants by prosecutor Claiborne Richardson. Sims sued both.
Richardson, still a prosecutor, is a candidate for a Virginia judgeship. Abbott committed suicide in 2015 as police attempted to arrest him on charges of molesting two boys. His estate is a defendant in the suit; Richardson was dismissed from the case by U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton. Abbott and Richardson obtained search warrants, and Abbott sought photos of Sims’s erect penis, to compare with the video sent to his girlfriend. The issue of how to handle “sexting,” particularly between consenting teens, continues to vex authorities, with some saying that it shouldn’t be treated as a crime. Sims was charged in juvenile court with the equivalent of a felony. A judge said there was enough evidence to convict Sims, but eventually dismissed the case after he completed a year of probation.