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Marion County Attorney Drops Felony Charges Against 14-Year-Old Girl, Taxpayers to Pay Thousands in Legal Fees

KNOXVILLE, Iowa -- The family of a 14-year-old Knoxville girl are celebrating after the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and their team of lawyers helped get felony charges against the teenager dropped.

“It is a great thing that our client gets to move on with her life and that she has the confidence of knowing that these charges are never going to be filed,” said ACLU Legal Director Rita Bettis.

Marion County Prosecutor Ed Bull threatened to charge the girl with sexual exploitation of a minor--herself--after he says she sent “suggestive” pictures to a fellow student. The pictures did not contain nudity, and the ACLU argued the charges violated the girl’s first amendment right of free speech, and equal protections under the law.

“One picture she was wearing a sports bra, the other her hair was covering her chest.  Had she been a young man instead of a young lady taking that same picture, this sort of threatening behavior on the part of the prosecutor never would have happened,  she would have never faced the possibility of these extremely serious charges,” said Bettis.

The charges held a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and being placed on the sex offender registry. The girl’s family issued a statement reading in part:

“We feel the county attorney misused his position of authority to bully our daughter.  As a result, this has adversely affected every aspect of our lives. We tried to work with him, but he wouldn’t budge and insisted that our daughter admit guilt to a crime that she didn’t commit."

Bull had previously said he would drop the charges if the girl were to write an admission of guilt and attend a class on the dangers of sexting.

The ACLU also says in this situation it was up to the parents, not the state, to handle what happened.

“She hadn’t violated the law, and so it was really inappropriate and illegal for the government to step into the shoes of  her parents and, in the case of this county attorney, impose his own views of morality, which the family found very sexist,” said Bettis.

As part of the settlement, Marion County will pay back the defendant's $40,000 in legal fees. The taxpayers will foot the bill.