NEWARK, Ohio - A 15-year-old girl accused of distributing nude photos of herself to other minors could be classified as a sex offender.
The student at Licking Valley High School in Newark was arrested Friday after school officials discovered the materials and brought in the school's resource officer for a police investigation.
After spending the weekend in jail, the girl pleaded deny Monday to two charges: illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material, a second-degree felony; and possession of criminal tools, a fifth-degree felony. Deny is the juvenile equivalent of not guilty.
The child pornography charge for a convicted adult requires that the adult register as a sex offender, but for a juvenile of the girl's age who is a first-time offender, the judge has flexibility in deciding whether to make her register, said Jennifer Brindisi, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation.
If the judge decides she must register, state law requires registration for 20 years, Brindisi said.
The Juvenile Division of the Licking County Court of Common Pleas placed the girl, a foster child, under house arrest. She was barred from using a cell phone or having access to the Internet without adult supervision and for purposes other than schoolwork. A status conference in her case was scheduled for Oct. 20.
The girl's defense attorney did not return calls.
The Advocate is not identifying the girl because she is a minor and her alleged offenses are not violent.
Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said Wednesday that the investigation into the incident remains open, including exploring whether charges will be filed against the minors who received the photos.
If the prosecutor's office elects to bring those teens into court, they could face a different section of the same charge pending against the sender of the pictures and classification as sex offenders, as well.
Under Ohio law, anyone possessing material that shows a minor in a state of nudity is guilty of a fifth-degree felony. The violation also might qualify the juveniles as Tier I sexual offenders, which requires annual registration for a decade.
State Rep. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, who wrote the state's Megan's Law bill, the predecessor of the federal Adam Walsh Act that requires registration of sex offenders, said this case was not something the legislature envisioned.
"Clearly it was in an illegal act," he said. "There needs to be consequences from that, but we need to make sure the punishment is a reasonable punishment."
Hottinger said the portions of the juvenile section of Ohio's Megan's Law, enacted in 2002 and replaced Jan. 1, were crafted to resemble their adult counterparts for good reason.
"What we're aiming at was a growing problem that we were seeing amongst juveniles and that was they were committing some very serious adult-like crimes," he said.