CARTHAGE, Tenn. (WKRN) — For many teens, their cellphone is one of their most valued possessions, but a Smith County juvenile court judge has threatened to take them away if they are convicted of vaping.
Judge Branden Bellar wrote in his ruling that minors are vaping at an “unprecedented rate,” and students and parents have no respect for police, school staff, or the law forbidding people under the age of 21 from vaping.
The ruling says any minor convicted of having vape products and/or vaping, using tobacco, electronic cigarettes, alcohol or controlled substances should have their cellphones and any other communication device confiscated by the appropriate authority and/or law enforcement agency until they complete a term of probation.
In addition, parents will be legally responsible for ensuring their child does not use a cellphone during probation. If they fail to enforce the rule, the parents could be held in contempt of court.
While many parents are riled up about the ruling, Grover Christopher Collins, Nashville attorney at Collins Legal, PLC, told News 2 juvenile court judges have more freedom when it comes to making orders, and this particular order falls well within his discretion.
“In juvenile court, there is a lot of latitude for the judges to do this sort of thing, and to do measures that are preemptive in nature,” Collins said. “We’re trying to correct problems before they happen. That’s the whole juvenile system — they’re trying to get out in front of it, and it looks like the judge is just trying to get out in front of it.”
Tennessee law allows police to confiscate any vape or tobacco products in the possession of a minor, then write them a citation to go to court.
Local governments can also choose to impose the civil penalty of a $10 to $50 fine, and/or no more than 50 hours of community service for those convicted of vaping or having vape products.
“While it’s not explicitly in the state law laid out that a judge can take away a cellphone, I think it would be well within the discretion of that judge to be able to do something like this,” Collins said. “I think it’s going to fall within lawful and him doing his job to be preemptive in trying to curb what he’s deemed an epidemic.”
While Collins believes the judge’s ruling is lawful, he said forbidding a child from having a phone during the probationary period could present some safety risks.
“Cellphones are used for a lot of things, and obviously for a teenager or anybody in school, they’re attached to their phones, but at the same time it can be a safety issue as well,” Collins said. “What if you’re going to and from school and you don’t have your phone? I think the fact that having a phone would be a violation of the court order. To me, there’s some danger there.”
District Attorney Jason Lawson told News 2 other juvenile judges have made similar orders as a condition of probation.
The order went into effect Dec. 2, 2022.