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January 22, 2018

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New technologies create new legal issues

Cyberbullying, sexting major topics of Law Day Live forum

A recent study illustrates the extent cell phones have become an integral part of a teenager’s daily existence: Four out of five teens sleep with their cell phones next to their bed.

One in three teens sends more than 100 text messages every day. Overall, 75 percent of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 have cell phones, according to a study released last week by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

But as the use of new technologies becomes increasingly prevalent, parents, schools and the judicial system must deal with new problems.

Cyberbullying and sexting were major topics at a Thursday forum that linked four of Nevada’s population centers — Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City and Elko — via the Internet so that court officers, students and school administrators could discuss the issues.

In an interactive twist, the webcast was available on the Nevada Supreme Court’s website and students were urged to pose questions via Facebook and Twitter.

Sexting is the sharing of suggestive, revealing or explicitly nude photos, usually by text message.

“Unfortunately, these photos often have a way of traveling beyond the intended recipient,” Nevada Supreme Court Justice Nancy M. Saitta said in introducing the topic to the panel. “Sharing, or even possessing such photos, if the person depicted is under age, can lead to child pornography charges.”

Prosecutor Mary Brown, who works in the Clark County District Attorney’s Office’s juvenile division, said teens don’t always realize the far-reaching consequences of their actions.

“We recognize that juveniles think differently and act differently,” she said, later adding that the district attorney’s office has never certified a teen as an adult for a sexting-related child pornography charge.

The Pew study found that only about 4 percent of teens reported sending sexts, though 15 percent said they had received a sexually explicit message from somebody they know.

The exchanges often occur as a result of one of three scenarios — as an exchange between romantic partners, an exchange between partners that is then divulged outside the relationship, or as an exchange between people who aren’t in a relationship but one of them wants to be.

The study noted that teens described the images as “relationship currency” in that they can substitute for sexual acts or can become part of maintaining a relationship.

But sharing intimate images can go awry, as teens reported sharing them with friends for “entertainment value, as a joke, for revenge or for fun.”

Family Court Judge William Voy, who was among the panelists from Clark County, said that in certain situations, juveniles can be certified as adults and could face adult penalties for sharing explicit images.

“We have statutes that say we, as a society, have drawn a line in the area of someone underage, so the mere possession of it, whether you take it, send it, receive it, and if you receive it, if you hold onto it, you’ve committed a crime,” Voy said.

Voy also warned that although juvenile records are automatically sealed at age 21, records can still be accessed in certain situations and that a sexting- or cyberbullying-related conviction could impact a person’s employability down the road.

Several panelists honed in on the fact that although a person can delete images from their phone, backups and archives are often automatically generated, meaning the images never go away.

“The sexting issue is not an innocent thing,” Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron D. Parraguirre said. “The most poignant point to make is, kind of like a diamond, ironically, sexting is forever. Those images are out there, available, identifying and they are forever. They do have serious consequences — not just criminal consequences but emotional consequences for all involved.”

The two-hour Law Day Live forum marked the first time the different levels of Nevada’s courts collaborated for an interactive webcast, Nevada Supreme Court information officer Bill Gang said.

It highlighted the potential for increased use of technology throughout the courts, he said.

“Nevada is 100,000 square miles. It’s a few population centers separated by a lot of rural area. We’ve shown we can bring everybody together and have an interconnection — a very close connection — through technology,” he said.

The questions and answers from students and school administrators, in addition to judicial officers, further demonstrated the need for an open dialogue on emerging issues, especially those pertaining to technology, he said.

Saitta echoed his sentiments. She dubbed the forum a success and said lawmakers need to listen to young people as new legislation is drafted to keep up with advances in technology.

“We need to listen to the young students about how we write our laws and engage them in how our actions are going to relate to technology,” she said. “We need to find out how they use it, whether it’s good or bad.”

The forum kicked off a month of Law Day activities that will take place in Nevada schools throughout May.

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