Colorado’s sexting bill signed into law
It took a trial and subsequent acquittal of a Moffat County School District teacher followed by months of bumps in the legislative road along the way, but Colorado’s sexting bill was finally signed into law on Monday, May 6 by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.
The bill’s passage closes a chapter in Craig’s history that could have taken much longer had the legislation failed to close a gap in state law allowing for a teacher to send sexually explicit texts to a student and walk away free.
It all started with Justin Folley, a Moffat County School District teacher who was acquitted in December on 10 felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child.
A Moffat County jury heard in graphic detail about how Folley groomed one of his female students — who, at the time, was 14 or 15 years old — through a series of sexually charged text messages that continued throughout the girl’s freshman year of high school.
The prosecution also alleged Folley had solicited the student to send two explicit photos of herself to him and sent her a video of himself masturbating.
The jury was given 30 pages of screenshots detailing the exchanges — exchanges in which Folley told the victim of his desire to have sex with her, asked her “how bad” she wanted it to happen, and quizzed her as to whether she had ever masturbated.
But those messages contained no direct evidence of images or video, and as the defense reiterated during jury selection and throughout the trial, it was not against the law for an adult or a person in a position of trust to send messages of a sexual nature to a minor, so long as those messages contain words only and not images.
The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office could not provide copies of the alleged images or video themselves, as they had allegedly been exchanged over Snapchat, an app that automatically deletes images after a short viewing window.
In the wake of the acquittal, officials in Craig and Moffat County moved to pass HB 19-1030 officially known as Unlawful Sexual Communication to criminalize any person in a position of trust who sends sexually explicit texts to minors and close “the Folley gap.”
The law’s success in Colorado’s legislature was at times in doubt. The law essentially died at the legislature before being revived under the leadership of Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale).
In an interview Tuesday, Rankin said the legislation had to be rewritten at least three times before the Folley gap was successfully closed.
“It criminalizes any person in a position of trust who uses these means to prey on somebody,” Rankin said. “It’s unfortunate that gap existed. It’s unfortunate that the person who perpetrated this was acquitted, but that won’t happen again.”
Though their work in Denver was crucial, Rankin and his wife — Joyce Rankin, who sat on Colorado’s State Board of Education at the time of the acquittal — gave much of the credit for the bill’s passage to Moffat County School District Superintendent David Ulrich and board member Chip McIntyre.
“They drove all the way from Craig to testify and that’s great,” Joyce said. “That’s why it only took a half year. We had great people.”
Ulrich said he’s glad the Folley gap is closed.
“I am happy the law has passed and it is good to have confidence that future actions like this by teachers will be illegal,” Ulrich said Tuesday in an email. “It is my sincere hope that the students who were subjected to this behavior by a teacher in our district will find some solace in this outcome. The bill’s passage would not have been possible without the efforts of several local and state level elected officials.”
Ulrich credited the Rankins, along with Rep. Dylan Roberts (D-Steamboat Springs), Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delta) and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada), all of whom assisted the bipartisan effort to keep the bill alive and get it passed.
“Each of these people were passionate in their support for this bill and their commitment to protecting our students and students throughout Colorado was evident throughout the process,” Ulrich said.
Lauren Blair contributed to this report.
Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or cthorp@CraigDailyPress.com.