An American teenager had nude photos of himself and his girlfriend on his smartphone—which is legal, right? Not in North Carolina, where authorities slapped Cormega Copening, 17, with felony charges and did the same for his 16-year-old girlfriend, Brianna Denson, who had nude photos of herself on her phone, the Guardian reports. Their crime: "sexting" illicit material while under the age of 18, ABC11 reports. The kicker: They were old enough to be charged as adults in North Carolina, but young enough to be considered sexually exploitable minors, so Copening and Denson were both the adult perpetrators and underage victims. And Copening, who was suspended as quarterback of his high school football team over the charges, could have been considered a sex offender for life had he not accepted a plea deal (as did Denson) that dropped the felony charges down to misdemeanors.
"You can be labeled a convicted sex offender as an adult at the age of 16, but you are a minor by being under the age of 18 to commit the offense in the first place," a Raleigh attorney tells Fox News. "It really makes terrible sense logically, but that's the way the law is written." And North Carolina isn't alone: While 20 states have so-called "Romeo and Juliet" laws to ensure that teen lovers aren't prosecuted for swapping such photos, the rest don't provide such leeway, per the Guardian. Indeed, authorities in Copening's case saw no way out: "We have no choice," a sheriff's sergeant explains to Fox. "The easiest way for the state to fix it is just to treat everyone under 18 as a minor." As for Copening and Denson, they can each get their record expunged by completing the terms of probation, which includes no cellphones for a year, WRAL reports.