Home Civil Law Snapchat Photos Don’t Constitute “Virtual” Physical Presence-People v. White – Technology &...

Snapchat Photos Don’t Constitute “Virtual” Physical Presence-People v. White – Technology & Marketing Law Blog


The defendant was a highschool trainer and coach. She despatched images to certainly one of her college students, WB, by way of Snapchat. The courtroom says WB and the defendant by no means mentioned the images. The courtroom describes the images as “somewhat risqué” as a result of they featured her partially uncovered breasts. Using a separate cellphone, WB took images of the Snapchat images (this prevented Snapchat’s notifications for screenshotting).

The state prosecuted the defendant for sexual exploitation of a kid (Illinois Criminal Code Sec. 11-9.1(a)) on the idea that the defendant uncovered herself in a toddler’s “virtual presence” (a statutorily outlined time period). The courtroom says digital presence happens when:

software program, equivalent to webcam video software program, creates an ‘environment’ during which the kid is nearly within the defendant’s presence….the legislature has in thoughts a personal computer artifice that apes physical presence: a webcam video or one thing prefer it. To meet the outline of “ ‘[v]irtual presence,’ ” the software program has to “create[ ]” a you-could-be-there “environment.”

The courtroom says images on Snapchat don’t fulfill this requirement:

They had been merely the digital equivalents of Polaroids, solely extra ephemeral….Snapchat didn’t create the illusory surroundings of presence that the legislature had in thoughts by its use of the time period “virtual presence.” Unlike Zoom, as an example, which is the video communication app that we used for oral arguments on this case, the Snapchat app that defendant and W.B. used was not a stand-in for physical presence.

As a end result, the courtroom overturned the defendant’s conviction. The courtroom doesn’t focus on whether or not different crimes might need utilized or why the prosecutors selected to suit the information into this crime.

This ruling addresses a basic Internet Law matter: the distinctions between “virtual” and “physical” activity and when these matter to the authorized outcomes. The courtroom doesn’t unpack the assumptions underlying the legislature’s extension of the crime to “virtual” presence, however apparently synchronous interactions are required. Even then, I ponder if digital synchronous interactions are equal. For instance, digital interactions lack the implied menace of instant violence or compulsion that exist in physical house.

This ruling probably conflicts with State v. Decker, which held that texting a dick pic constituted prison sexual conduct, i.e., “masturbation or lewd exhibition of the genitals in the presence of a minor under the age of 16, knowing or having reason to know the minor is present.” The courtroom discovered ample “presence” as a result of the defendant despatched the photograph within the context of an lively chat thread. Perhaps this case might be distinguished as a result of there didn’t appear to be an lively chat thread; or as a result of the statutory definition of “virtual presence” differed from the “presence” definition in Decker. It’s additionally attainable these circumstances reached completely different outcomes based mostly on various norms concerning the significance of physicality in these crimes.

Case quotation: People v. White, 2021 IL App (4th) 200354 (Ill. App. Ct. March 25, 2021)

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