Texas 'revenge porn' law goes too far, court rules

A Texas appeals court last week struck down a state law that criminalized the sharing of sexually explicit photos and videos of an individual online without their consent, ruling the “revenge porn” measure a violation of the First Amendment.

The 12th Court of Appeals in Tyler — about 98 miles east of Dallas — said the law was too broad and infringed on free speech with its restrictions on sharing inherently expressive media online, the Texas Tribune reported.

The “revenge porn” statute “is an invalid content-based restriction and overbroad in the sense that it violates rights of too many third parties by restricting more speech than the Constitution permits,” the court ruled.

The court also called the law vague, breaching the rights of third parties who may unintentionally share the private images.

Some state lawmakers expressed frustration with the court's decision.

"I am disappointed to learn that a state appeals court has struck down Texas’ “revenge porn” legislation that made it illegal to post intimate photos on the internet without consent," state Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, tweeted. "This type of disgusting act must be punished."

The 2015 law, enacted by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, made it a crime to share a person’s intimate content online without their consent, the Tribune reported. The misdemeanor punishment carried a charge of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.

Similar laws exist in dozens of other states, though their consequences vary. New Jersey punishments carry no jail time, but violators can face a fine of up to $30,000. In California, it’s punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment and a fine not exceeding $2,000.

The Texas court’s ruling blocked the law in about a dozen counties in Northeast Texas under the 12th Court of Appeals, though courts serving the other districts could consider its decision for similar cases, the Tribune reported.

Alongside its ruling, the court dropped a revenge porn charge against Jordan Bartlett Jones ahead of his trial for allegedly sharing a naked photo of a woman that revealed her identity, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

The Office of State Prosecuting Attorney will seek to overturn the ruling in an appeal, the paper reported. If unsuccessful, the agency will bring it to the Court of Criminal Appeals — Texas’ highest court for criminal cases.