A Fayetteville, North Carolina teenager has reached a plea deal to avoid being charged with multiple sexual exploitation counts after his cell phone was found to contain nude selfies of himself. Seventeen-year-old Cormega Copening, who took the photos of himself when he was 16, agreed to the deal in order to avoid possible jail time and being registered as a sex offender. As part of the plea, the teen agreed to random police searches without warrant for one year as well as other penalties, Fusion reports. The teenager was listed as both the victim and the perpetrator on the sexual exploitation charges.
The case has been met with controversy since the teenager, who faced up to 10 years prison time, was saddled with child pornography charges for being in possession of his own nude selfies. The photos were discovered during an unrelated search of the teen’s phone; he was suspended from the school’s football team until the investigation was resolved. Adding to the uproar was that no warrants were issued for the initial search of Copening’s cell phone.
Copening received one count for possessing a nude selfie taken by his 16-year-old girlfriend, who was also charged in the incident and similarly agreed to a plea deal of one year probation. The selfies were deemed child pornography even though the age of consent in North Carolina is 16. Additionally, North Carolina is one of only two states that recognize 16 years old as adulthood in criminal matters, so both Copening and his girlfriend faced being charged as adults even though the crimes the perpetrated against themselves related to sexually exploiting minors, Reason.com writes.
“It’s dysfunctional to be charged with possession of your own image,” Justin Patchin, the co-founder of cyberbullying.com, told The Guardian. “Kids should not be charged for that. And you don’t want kids to be sending such pictures to their significant others, but I don’t think it should be a criminal offense where there is no victim.” Patchin added that there is no precedent in this case, since he can think of “zero examples” where teens were charged for being in possession of their own nude selfies.