Can Anthony Weiner Go to Jail for Sexting a 15-Year-Old Girl?

Former congressman has had plenty of scandals, but the newest involves a minor – which could mean real trouble

Anthony Weiner faces another sexting scandal – this time with a 15-year-old girl.
Can Anthony Weiner Go to Jail for Sexting a 15-Year-Old Girl?

On Wednesday morning, the Daily Mail published an exclusive report stating that former New York congressman and mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner, who has already been involved in an unprecedented number of extramarital sexting affairs, had yet another online mistress – this time, a 15-year-old girl. According to the report, Weiner first talked to the underage girl last January when she initiated contact over Twitter. From there, they'd reportedly chatted over apps like Skype and Confide, where he'd send shirtless photos, ask her to dress up in schoolgirl outfits, ask her to touch herself over video chat, even ask her to engage in "rape fantasies" – though the report does say that he changed the subject after she objected. 

This is hardly Weiner's first scandal: In May 2011, a still-in-congress Weiner had a sexually explicit photograph appear briefly on his public Twitter account. The following month, he admitted to engaging in inappropriate relationships online, and resigned from Congress. More scandal followed two years later when, as the Democrat was running for New York City mayor, he was he was found to have sent more explicit photos to a 22-year-old woman. (This was all painfully captured in the recent documentary, Weiner.) Then, last August, the New York Post reported that Weiner was at it again, having sexted with yet another woman – including sending a photo that included the image of his toddler son. That same month, Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife of six years and a close advisor to Hillary Clinton, announced that the couple was separating.

This latest revelation, though similar in substance to the earlier ones, is probably the most damning – especially if the girl told him that she was 15 and a sophomore in high school, as the report alleges. In a statement to the Daily Mail, Weiner acknowledged his personal issues but questioned the veracity of this particular report. "I have repeatedly demonstrated terrible judgment about the people I have communicated with online and the things I have sent," he said. "I am filled with regret and heartbroken for those I have hurt. While I have provided the Daily Mail with information showing that I have likely been the subject of a hoax, I have no one to blame but me for putting myself in this position. I am sorry."

Though Weiner would be in no legal danger for engaging in sexual situations over text with grown women, this latest discovery does beg the question: Could Weiner go to jail for sexting with a 15-year-old girl?

"Raunchy texts and despicable behavior don't always rise to levels of crime in New York City."

New York criminal defense attorney Daniel A. Hochheiser doesn't think it will come to that, though the misdemeanor of endangering the welfare of a child is certainly a possibility. "In terms of criminal liability, his is pretty minor," Hochheiser tells Rolling Stone. "We have laws against manufacturing, distributing and possessing sexual performances of children. So if you make any recordings, video or otherwise, or had Weiner recorded his Skype back-and-forth with this 15-year-old, he might have [committed] a felony for [possessing] a sexual performance by a child.

"[But] if there are no recordings, and assuming they are both in New York State and misconduct is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Anthony Weiner [could be liable] under the endangering the welfare of a child statute, which is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year of jail."(And if the girl lives out of state, as the Guardian has suggested, it could potentially turn Weiner's texts into a federal issue. "If she's not in New York State, the federal statutes are too numerous for my brain," Hochheiser says. "A creative federal prosecutor could put together a charge if they're in different states.")

What could also result in prosecution, Hochheiser argues, is whether or not Weiner ever made any attempts to meet with the underage girl in real life. "Say this 15-year-old girl involved in the Weiner case was an undercover cop," he notes. "They would have had conversations setting up a meeting. Weiner, if he took the bait, would have gone into a meeting [with her] and that would have triggered more liability because he would have been closer to an actual sexual act." 

Another New York criminal defense attorney, Paul Petrus, agrees. "Typically speaking, what the government looks for is language plots of action," he says. "For example, if Anthony had said, 'Hey, do you want to meet and have sex at a hotel,' the government's not going to wait until he's in bed with the young lady to arrest him. But if he shows up and he has condoms and pornography – signs that he's going to go in and do something – that's an attempt to commit a felonious sexual act with a minor."

"It doesn't look like [Weiner] had taken any steps to actually have sexual relationships with the young lady," he continues. "Obviously the language is raunchy and the behavior is despicable. But raunchy texts and despicable behavior don't always rise to levels of crime in New York City."

On the other hand, Petrus does acknowledge the very real danger in asking a minor to engage in a sexual act over the Internet. "If he encouraged her to send him any nude photos and she is doing it, he's got a real problem. That could be depicted as pornographic material because she's a minor."

"Once the texting [changes to]  sending photos of private body parts, then it rises to the level of a felony charge."

Photos and videos are one thing, but not all feel Weiner's texts alone are too minor to prosecute. Rob Gershon, a Brooklyn defense lawyer who currently represents clients with cases like Weiner's, thinks that the former Congressman could be facing any number of charges based on the verbiage. (And there was plenty of that. One alleged text read, "'I would bust that tight p***y so hard and so often that you would leak and limp for a week.") Gershon explains: "It depends on the content of the texts. If it's just an innocuous conversation that doesn't have any sexual overtones, a criminal charge [wouldn't] stem from that. But once the texting or emailing [changes to] questions of sexual contact or sending photos of private body parts or things of that nature, then it rises to the level of a felony charge."

Even the 15-year-old's testimony of lewd texts – without any physical evidence – could be grounds to prosecute. "If you have a sexual discussion with a minor, and you're an adult, you're subjecting yourself to criminal charges," Gerson says. "If he sent messages or emails in any electronic form, if you participate in that conversation with a minor and you're an adult, you're going to be subject to arrest."

But even if Hochheiser and Petrus are correct in that Weiner wouldn't face immediate prosecution based on lewd texts alone with a minor, Hochheiser does point out the inherent disconnect between sex-crime laws and technology's breakneck advancement. "A lot of the laws – especially to do with the federal laws – have to do with mailing or shipping obscene materials containing child sexual acts between states or overseas for commercial profit," he says. "But I don't know that legislature in the state or federal Congress take a look at what happens when adults have sexually charged conversations with minors over the internet. That's something that should be addressed."