Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Six-Year Sentence for Youth Pastor Who Engaged in Sexting

Key point 4-11.1. Clergy who engage in sexual contact with an adult or minor are subject to civil liability on the basis of several legal theories. They also are subject to criminal liability.

A Virginia court affirmed a six-year prison sentence for a youth pastor who had engaged in “sexting” with a member of his youth group. A 14-year-old girl (the “victim”) sought out the youth pastor (the “defendant”) of her church for counseling. The two began to communicate via text message and later through Snapchat, an image messaging mobile phone application in which a user can send a photograph or text message with a set time to expire. The receiving user can only view the text message or photograph for one to ten seconds before the image or text message expires and is automatically deleted from the mobile phone. Via Snapchat, the victim sent the defendant a nude picture of her upper body, and in return, the defendant sent her a nude picture of himself. They also sent each other videos in which the defendant was nude and the victim’s upper body was nude, and engaged in numerous email conversations.

The relationship eventually came to light and the defendant was prosecuted and convicted, after a jury trial, for using of a computer to solicit a minor and taking indecent liberties with a child. He received a sentence of six years of incarceration. The defendant appealed his conviction claiming that there was no physical evidence of guilt. The victim testified that she had received the photographs via Snapchat, and that at the time she and the defendant were exchanging Snapchat messages, the application deleted photographs shortly after they were sent and they could not be saved. As a result, because the pictures were sent with Snapchat, the photographs she saw in court were not actually the pictures that were sent, but were just “similar.” She further testified that the pictures introduced in evidence at the defendant’s trial were a fair and accurate representation of the pictures sent to her. The trial court admitted the photographs, noting that the victim had affirmed that the pictures were a fair and accurate representation of the photographs sent to her by the defendant. A state appeals court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

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