Most political scandals are like a flash in the pan. They explode into the public consciousness for a brief period, dominating water cooler conversations and, sometimes, the 24-hour news cycle. A few days or weeks pass, and they fade from the social consciousness. A few such scandals, however, seem to linger indefinitely, quieting for a period before resurfacing again.
The strange, sad story of former New York congressman Anthony Weiner falls into the latter category, though it appears to be drawing closer to its inevitable conclusion.
Recently, Weiner pleaded guilty to federal obscenity charges for sending sexual images and messages to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
Weiner’s sordid sexual history and his problematic relationship with social media has been a prominent scandal feature in the American political system in recent years.
Until his latest foray into sex in the social media forum, though, the former congressman’s behavior was simply embarrassing with personal consequences rather than being criminal.
It is painfully why the federal government leveled obscenity charges against Weiner for sexting with a 15-year-old.
The teenager was underage.
It is illegal to send sexually explicit communications to a minor—under federal law, someone who is under eighteen years of age.
However, you might be wondering why Weiner faced federal charges rather than state charges.
The reason for the federal charge is important and illustrates why everyone should always be careful when using technology to share sexual images or communications.
How You Communicate Matters in Whether You Face State or Federal Charges
Why does someone get charged with a federal crime?
There are a few reasons.
The first is because the crime is committed against a federal entity or organization. For example, a person robs a local post office instead of a convenience store.
Both are robberies, but the robbery of a post office is a federal entity. The offense is against the federal government while a convenience store robbery is an offense against a personal business.
The difference between federal and state criminal offenses can sometimes be confusing.
Consider, for example, that two people call in bomb threats. The first person, in Nebraska, calls Disneyland in California while the second person, in Utah, calls the IRS.
Which one is the federal government more likely to prosecute?
That’s really a trick question. If you said the one involving the IRS, you’re only half right.
Because using any interstate communication system to call in a bomb is a federal offense, both people in this illustration committed in federal crimes.
As in the case with Anthony Weiner sexting with the girl from North Carolina, he used technology to communicate in an unlawful manner while sitting in New York. He didn’t have to physically cross a state line because his communication did that for him.
This is incredibly important to understand, because if you engage in sexually explicit communication online, the nature of the technology itself means that you will almost always cross state lines – even if you’re talking to someone down the block. Many people don’t realize this.
Even communication with someone using your phone can be dangerous in this way because you may not realize that they reside in a different state.
If you are facing a federal sex crime or worry that you could be charged for your actions, the best thing to do is to speak with an experienced federal criminal lawyer as soon as possible. They will be able to help you go over the details of your case, discuss potential options, and start developing your defense strategy so you are more likely to receive a positive outcome.