(06/29/2013)
Several new criminal laws will take effect in July in West Virginia according to Shannon Johnson, Calhoun County Prosecuting Attorney.

On July 1, 2013, any use of a cellular telephone or other electronic communication device without hands free equipment while driving becomes a primary offense. This includes making and/or receiving phone calls and texts on any device such as cell phones, Ipods, Ipads, or any device capable of communication.

On July 9, 2013, failing to wear a seat belt will also become a primary offense.

Mrs. Johnson notes, "Since using cell phones and not wearing seat belts are now primary offenses, that means officers can stop your vehicle and give you a citation if they observe you violating those laws while you are driving. The officers need no other reason to stop your vehicle."

Another major change of note is the Legislature's endeavor to address "sexting" among minors. Sexting - sending and sharing sexually explicit messages or photographs primarily among mobile phones - has become more prevalent in teens and pre-teens. The old laws addressed possession of child pornography by adults, but did not adequately address the issue of sexting. Thus, the Legislature took measures to stop this behavior.

As of July 12, 2013, any minor who intentionally possesses, creates, produces, distributes, presents, transmits, posts, exchanges, or otherwise disseminates a visual portrayal of another minor or themselves posing in an inappropriate sexual manner shall be guilty of an act of delinquency. In essence, this means any minor who has, creates, or distributes any kind of photograph, drawing, video, or other graphic image of a naked minor, even themselves, is guilty of a delinquent act.

The Legislature also gave the West Virginia Supreme Court the option to develop an education program about sexting to address the legal consequences; the non-legal and social ramifications; the intricacies of cyberspace and its searchability, replicability, and infinite audience; and the connection between sexting and cyber-bullying. Once the program is developed, the prosecutor may refer the minor to complete the educational program and consider their participation prior to filing a juvenile petition for a first offense.

Mrs. Johnson says of the new law, "I applaud the Legislature's efforts regarding sexting. Young people do not realize how vast and far-reaching their actions can be in today's internet and mobile society. A picture shared today could come back to haunt them next month, two years from now, or even thirty years down the road. Hopefully the new education component will be developed and will assist parents and educators in hitting this point home."


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