Judges: Cellphones, social media help teens commit crime
Cellphones and social media have made it easier and quicker for teens to commit crimes -- whether they know it or not.
And once you hit "send" on a message or image, you lose control of a situation because the message or image can be saved, shared with a wider audience. And it never, ever "goes away."
Authorities can use texts, social media interactions and images as evidence in cases of sexting, cyberbullying and drug deals.
These were among the points driven home Thursday by Kane County Judges Susan Clancy Boles and Clint Hull during a presentation to seventh- and eighth-graders at Thompson Middle School in St. Charles.
"If you're involved in that activity, your young age is not going to protect you," said Boles, who is Kane's chief judge. "The communications that you think are private are not private."
In past years, Boles and Hull made presentations to local middle schools about the perils of using alcohol and drugs -- and how that plays out in their courtrooms.
But Pat Stacey, the Learning Resources Center coordinator at Thompson, urged the judges last year to talk to the students about sexting, harassment, bullying and other crimes students are committing with their cellphones. Thursday was the second year presenting at Thompson.
"She saw this as a more pressing issue than alcohol and/or drug use," Hull said. "We agreed, as we are seeing more and more cases that involve the use of cellphones in our courtrooms."
Hull and Boles broke down the ramifications of sending another person what could be construed as a simple, yet sexy, selfie. They showed examples, nationally, of how the lives of good teens could be ruined by just one poor decision. One example is receiving a picture of a person 18 or younger and later sharing it with others via text or social media.
Simply passing it along, or even saving it to a phone, can be charged as distribution of child pornography or possession of it, both felonies that can have a person branded as a sex offender if convicted, the judges said. The same can be said for texting someone a threat, or letting another person use your phone to do it.
Hull also noted that it is the policy of St. Charles Unit School District 303 to allow administrators to ask for social media account passwords from students and their parents if authorities have probable cause to investigate a potential crime.
Hull said law enforcement is one step ahead of the populace to resurrect and recover messages and images that supposedly were deleted.
"Even if it's outside of school, they can get those passwords and investigate," Hull said. "It's not an excuse to say, 'I didn't send it.' You're responsible just as if you've done that text. You lose control once you send that photograph. When you're in front of us (in court), it's too late. It doesn't matter how many tears you shed."
Boles said many juveniles convicted of cellphone crimes get probation and a heavy dose of community service; judges are more interested in preventing such behavior.
The judges want to refine their presentation and give it at other schools in the Fox Valley area. They also hope the Illinois Judges Association will adopt it as a program for other judges to reach out to students.
"We think it's powerful enough and important enough to do that," Boles said.