Teen arrested for allegedly having nude photos of himself on his phone

A North Carolina boy finds himself looking at felony sex offender charges in which perpetrator and victim are both him.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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Jack Britt High School, where Copening is the football team's quarterback. Seamus Murray/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

How often is it that charges are brought in which perpetrator and victim are the same person?

My online search for anything like the case of Cormega Copening has come up empty. Police in February allegedly found nude photos of Copening, then 16, on his phone and arrested him for possession of child pornography. Yes, he, himself, is the child in the alleged pornography.

It all happened last in Fayetteville, North Carolina. As ABC 11 reported, Copening was subjected to a search that some reports have described as warrantless.

"We were investigating a statutory rape that was filmed and transmitted," Sgt. Sean Swain of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office said. "We were given permission to search the phone by the owner, his [Copening's] mother."

The statutory rape being investigated involved a 14-year-old girl and other teens. Copening is not being charged in that case, Swain said.

However, a search of his phone did take place. And in addition to nude photos of Copening, police also allegedly found nude photos of his girlfriend. In North Carolina, sending or receiving sexually explicit images, or "sexting," is illegal for the under-18s, even though the age of consent is 16.

Police charged both Copening and his girlfriend, as both were 16 at the time the photos were taken. (They are now both 17.)

There is no evidence that the pictures had been shared with anyone. However, the Fayetteville Observer said Copening was charged in February not only with sexual exploitation of a minor -- his girlfriend -- but also with making nude photos of himself and possessing them.

Because the law viewed Copening as an adult perpetrator, the charge for him was sexual exploitation of a minor (also him), a felony. There were five counts in all. Only one was with respect to his girlfriend. The other four only related to photos of himself.

The sheriff's office wouldn't be drawn on why it proceeded with charges against Copening when he was both the alleged perpetrator and the alleged victim.

Moreover, in how many cases can it be that a legal adult is charged with exploiting a minor, who also happens to be him?

The anomaly here is that North Carolina criminal law says that teens aged 16 and 17 are adults when they commit crimes. They are classified as minors if they're victims of a crime until they're 18.

WRAL-TV reports that Copening has reached a plea deal. He will spend one year on probation. During this probation he has agreed to not protest police searches that happen to lack a warrant.

Indeed, the details of the agreement include that he "must stay in school, take a class on making good decisions, complete 30 hours of community service, not use or possess alcohol or illegal drugs, not possess a cellphone and must submit to warrantless searches," according to WRAL-TV.

Some might wonder whether those prosecuting could also consider the meaning of making good decisions.

Swain told me that the statutory rape charges in the related case are "still pending court."

On the charges affecting him, Copening agreed to plead guilty to two counts of disseminating harmful material to minors, in return for all the other charges related to sexual exploitation being dropped.

Copening's girlfriend, who was also charged, reportedly agreed to a similar plea deal.

The law doesn't seemed to have kept up with technology. One might imagine, though, that those who enact the law might have modernized their interpretations.

Copening was potentially facing a 10-year sentence. Now he can rejoin his Jack Britt High School football team, where he is the quarterback.


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