Legislators around the country are scrambling to look at their states' laws about lewd messages to minors after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court overturned a conviction, saying state law didn't support it because it didn't specify online messaging.

“The online conversations in this case, as they were not written with pen or pencil, cannot be considered `handwritten’ materials,’’ Justice Francis X. Spina wrote on behalf of the Supreme Judicial Court, in a unanimous decision. “If the Legislature wishes to include instant messaging or other electronically transmitted text in the definition, it is for the Legislature, not the court, to do so.’’

Many states have similar phrasing in their lewd messaging laws, so it is likely that this is a problem that goes beyond just Massachusetts.

Matt H. Zubiel had been charged with four counts of sending sexually explicit instant messages in February 2006 to a Plymouth County deputy sheriff posing as a girl online. Each count carried a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Ironically, noted the Boston Globe, the legislature had changed those laws four years ago to make the penalties harsher, but had not added language to include electronically transmitted messages.

The Massachusetts Governor, as well as the chair of the state legislature's judiciary committee, plans to file legislation next week to amend the law, local papers reported.