A morality tale; teens, take heed: Improper teenage behavior on Snapchat can lead to many decades in prison

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By Emily Horowitz . . . Let’s say you’re a 17-year-old boy asking two 16-year-old girls to sext you on Snapchat—well, that’s pretty normal these days, right? Let’s agree that it is.

Now, let’s say that you possibly paid the girls for their sexts, and then allegedly threatened to expose them unless they sent more of them. That’s not normal. It’s obviously immoral, probably illegal, and quite simply wrong.

But are you knowingly creating child pornography and transmitting it across state lines?

That’s what Eric Beyer Jr., of Hutchinson, Kansas, is accused of. He faces up to 70 years in federal prison.

“I’m not saying that I don’t think my son should be punished for that,” says Jessica Melone, Beyer’s mother. “Absolutely, he should know what he did was wrong and should get in trouble. I’m not saying my kid should get nothing. Even if you want to give him five years, I’m okay with that, because I know he’ll never do it again. But to take an 18-year-old kid and put him in jail for longer than he’s been alive?”

When Beyer was 17, he made a fake account on Snapchat and started contacting girls about his same age. He was in high school at the time. The FBI became aware of his activity in June of 2021, probably because one of the girl’s parents found out what he was doing and brought her phone to the authorities. But the FBI waited until September, a month after Beyer turned 18, to act.

Then, at about 4:30 a.m., a SWAT team raided the house where Beyer lived with his dad and brother, and handcuffed all three, according to his mother, who is divorced and lives in Pennsylvania. Then they put Beyer in the cruiser for questioning. He was read his Miranda rights and responded, “I understand.”

When questioned, Beyer said that yes, the Snapchat account was his, and no, he wasn’t sharing it with anyone. He asked if his father could be there with him, but the agents said he was old enough to be alone. Then they told him, “We need your password.” Unaware that he could refuse, Beyer gave it to them, whereupon they opened his account and put him under arrest, according to his mother.

Beyer has been in jail awaiting trial ever since. His family could not afford the $5,000 it would take to bail him out, and by the time they got the money together, it was too close to his trial date—which has been moved several times—to release him.

How is it that photos exchanged—or even extorted—by teens who all reside in Kansas can be considered an interstate crime? Simple: Snapchat’s server is in California. The images electronically left Kansas, crossed state lines, and came right back.

Nonetheless, the authorities had a choice: They could have brought district charges against him, or federal ones.

“When there’s a case with overlapping interests, a lot of times the federal and the state prosecutor have a conversation about who is going to do the case,” says Troy Stabenow, a federal assistant defense attorney. Who takes the case could be based on something as simple as who has more time on their schedule, or who thinks they would get the most appropriate punishment.

It’s not clear why Beyer’s case went to the U.S. District Attorney. The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hart, did not respond to a request for comment.

Kansas City-based criminal defense attorney Chris Angles says the federal statute can result in extremely heavy consequences, regardless of offender age.

“These crimes are unfortunately increasingly common among teens,” says Angles. “State laws, unlike federal ones, are crafted to address age and other mitigating factors. Applying the federal law in this case, with the facts as we understand them, seems overly punitive.”

In fact, the attorney continued, under Kansas law, there aren’t even mandatory minimums.

“A state prosecutor could exercise discretion and the sentence could be tailored to the facts of the case, with a judge having discretion to depart,” says Angles. “His likely starting range under Kansas law would be 4-20 years.” A plea, he indicated, would probably be lower.

Beyer’s federal charges—two counts of knowingly producing and transporting child pornography and one of possessing it—carry far lengthier sentences. Each production charge is punishable by not less than 15 nor more than 30 years. The possession charge is 10 years.

These sentences could be served concurrently, but Melone says her son’s public defender has warned Beyer that they could also be “stacked”; in other words, he might have to serve them one after another. In that case, if convicted of all three charges, he would be facing a minimum of 40 and a maximum of 70 years behind bars. He’d get out at age 58 or age 88.

It’s worth noting that each year of incarceration costs taxpayers roughly $40,000.

Beyer’s public defender had recommended he take a plea deal that would cap his incarceration at 20 years and perhaps get him 12 to 15 years in prison, followed by registration as a sex offender.

Recently, Beyer received some good news. He sent a note to the judge pointing out that he was just a month away from his September 27 trial date and still did not know how his public defender planned to argue the case. This moved the judge to dismiss the public defender and allow a pro bono lawyer to take over. Now his trial has been pushed back indefinitely.

This development gives Melone a ray of hope. It’s possible that Beyer might even be allowed to come home before his trial now.

It does sound like Beyer probably committed a crime—one all too easy to commit in this technological age, but one that warrants punishment, nevertheless. Those 16-year-old girls—indeed, all minors—obviously deserve protection from exploitation, and blackmail is a serious issue.

But it also sounds like the relevant laws, which cover interstate production and transmission of illegal images, were written for the era before the internet, when data didn’t fly through the air. These laws do not map directly onto the dismaying conduct of teens, other teens, and smart phones. A young man who solicits nude photos from young women and then threatens to expose them has done something wrong; he needs to make amends and be taught better behavior. But does he really need to spend the rest of his life in prison?

“I have a three-year-old,” says Melone. “If my three-year-old takes a magic marker and draws all over my walls and I beat him half to death, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.”

Originally published at reason.com.

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14 Thoughts to “A morality tale; teens, take heed: Improper teenage behavior on Snapchat can lead to many decades in prison”

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  1. PubliusNH

    One of the great injustices in this matter is that these 16-year old females were, in fact, engaged themselves in producing child pornography, commercially to boot. The fact that they were photographing themselves is irrelevant to a charge of manufacturing. They made it, they sold it, they transferred it across state lines. They committed federal sex offenses and did so for the purpose of enticing a young man’s interest. But they will not be held accountable and the crimes will continue. The reality is that, currently, the single largest producer of child pornography in the United States is: adolescent females.

    1. Prison mom

      I totally agree. Sixteen year old girls are adult enough to consent to sex, marry in many states, be charged as adults in some crimes but are innocent children when taking inappropriate photos of their private parts, uploading and sending them! BS! My son is sitting in prison for this kind of “crime” except the 16 year old girl charged for her photos and he was stupid enough to pay for it. He’s serving time for CP and she hold not responsibility. He was wrong but so was she. All should be held accountable for their actions and choices. Having been a 16 ur old girl, they know what they’re doing!

  2. Gene

    Unfortunately this falls into a category of offense where good judgment, common sense, and decency are all replaced by hysteria and “noble cause corruption “. Too many people are making a living by prosecuting such cases.

  3. Tim in WI

    The people opted for convenience and unfettered use and application of the database driven infrastructure. They pay the price for it many times over. By extension the same is true for liberty. Do not underestimate the power of the DDI to centralize authority! Take me word for it, the political class is engaging in war with it.

  4. Ed C

    Just a note about state lines, which provides federal jurisdiction through the Commerce Clause. Pornography does not even have to cross state lines. In 2009 there was a child pornography (CP) case in my state. The defendant worked for the communications company and could prove the CP in question never left servers located within the state nor were routed beyond state borders. Federal jurisdiction attached because the internet is “an insturmentality of interstate commerce.” That casts an exceedidngly broad net.

    The Commerce Clause is singularly the most abused constitutional provision used to gain federal jurisdiction. In the 1942 case of Claude R. Wickard, Secretary of Agriculture et al. the Supreme Court allowed the feds to regulate intrastate wheat production even if only used for personal consumption. The rationale was that even this trivial over-production affected the interstate price of wheat.

    This “logic” has been extended to CP. Not only is the internet an instrumentality of interstate commerce, but federal jurisdiction has attached because a camera or a memory stick was not manufactured within state boundaries.

    Although to my knowledge this has not yet come up, highways are also instrumentalities of interstate commerce. The feds could argue for jurisdiction if a public highway was used to commit a strictly local crime. Not to mention that the automobile was not manufactured in the state.

    1. Tim in WI

      Ed,
      I seem to recall a fed judge in a district court being of the opinion state registration regime interfered or conflicted with the commerce clause. His opinion was overruled by 7th Circuit….I think.

  5. AJ

    I can’t help but notice how quick this country has become to locking kids up for their lives, and adding them to the growing list of sex offenders. I have to wonder, as many should, just how well he will fit into society after 40 some years behind bars.. i struggled to make it after 12 yrs behind bars. Social changes, and modern changes in things, such as technology, leaves many behind and baffled. Then add the growing list of what nots we have to follow. I even have a rule stating i cannot have photos of children without parental permission. That includes my own grandchildren.
    Yet never do i see the alleged victims (the girls themselves) being held accountable. In treatment i was told how men work off of looks, and women work more from feelings. Yet i see more and more scantily clad women who flaunt themselves towards young men. I say this today. You almost need a binding, notarized contract in order to stay safe from prosecution. Also with sex crimes I’ve learned that stacking charges is very common. That is to insure a conviction, even if they lack evidence.

  6. none

    take his phone away and persecute snapchat

  7. R.Arens

    Apparently the system is set up to absolve those who claim “victim” of any wrongdoing even if they do go into it as a willing participant. This is a horrible era to be in as a man. Absolutely horrible.

  8. Max Freeman

    This is where the people need to take a very close look at what they can do to restructure the entire legal system.
    Speaking of moral issues. It’s completely immoral to lock people up for any length of time if what they done wrong wasn’t of a violent nature.
    What they need to do is. Teach them through hard work and counseling to the point where they learn and develop from it as well as the tax payers benefiting from the outcome. That way their life hasn’t been damaged by their stupidity as well as the legal systems outdated structure.

  9. H n H

    His mom is OK with him getting 5 years for something a hormone driven teenager would normally do? This is what’s wrong with the whole “sex crime” issue. You’re dealing with teenage girls who desire to be wanted, are horny and willing to show off if they can feel some sort of desperate affection, even if it’s a smile and ome other person saying they like them and affirming they are desired. I hate to break it to people, but this isn’t going to stop with more laws and punishment. And it certainly isn’t going to stop by allowing all these girls to walk away Scott free. We’re dealing with human emotions, needs and desires by teenagers who crave to explore and experiment. For God’s sakes where would these lawmakers be today if they had access to phones as teens do today? More laws, the registry and prison isn’t going to address these issues. People need to get over the fact that teenagers are sexual beings with desires and quit criminalizing arousal.

  10. Marycatherine Rodgers

    something that we continue to forget, this is a moral and social issue not a legal issue.
    As parents and as a society we need to take responsibility for educating our children to the right and wrong ways to behave.

  11. Jim

    Well, I guess another commonsense post I made was censored. Just trying to explain how we are being pitted against each other by hate. Everyone should check out the supreme court’s ruling on the Bruen case on the rights of people. Sandy, Look at the Bruen case for rights for the people to live in peace ECT.

  12. w

    Can’t have it both ways…Operation Protect the Innocent AND suggest that sexting is a normal thing AND punish the guy for wanting to see what those girls sent him.

    On VH1 last month they had awards performances that were beyond vile and graphic. But apparently it is now the norm to see a male performer in leather chaps exposing their rear to an admittedly confused although complicit audience. An audience that cheered regardless because they were asked ubiquitously to “make some noise” and mindlessly complied.

    And we haven’t even gotten to Nicki yet.

    Time to return to conservative views America. Or watch as impressionable youth keep falling for the social engineering experiment. So who’s this “innocent” in Operation Protect the Innocent again???

    Almost 90% male incarcerated population…females are always the victim…because of natural sexual roles…roles that the youth are not ready for their consequences. But are being peer pressured into by pop culture.

    Every generation needs a new “Grease”. Keeps the gears turning, right? Wake up people! It’s already too late, now we have to undo decades of damage…if you really want to protect the innocent resist the experiment. Resist the police state.