CARSON CITY - The state Supreme Court has ruled that it is not a crime under state law for a county jail inmate to possess a cellphone in a jail cell.
But the ruling doesn't mean inmates at the Clark County Detention Center soon will be calling their buddies in crime, or running phone scams, as some inmates around the country have done.
A Metropolitan Police Department spokesman said it is policy for jailers to automatically confiscate cellphones before inmates enter their cells, and a deputy district attorney said the ruling doesn't block them from imposing rules administratively to prohibit these phones.
Justices on a 3-0 vote Thursday threw out charges filed by the Pershing County Sheriff's Department against jail inmate Nickolas Mark Andrews.
The sheriff filed charges against the inmate after a cellphone was found in a box under his bed. The charge alleged that Andrew broke a state law that prohibits all prisoners, including county jail inmates, from possessing "any key, lock, bolt cutters, saw, digging tool, rope, ladder, hook or ladder" or other tools that could be used for the propose of escaping.
Justices concluded that a cellphone was not a kind of device that could be used to escape from a jail or prison.
"It would be virtually impossible to use a cellphone to forcibly break out of, or physically free oneself from a jail cell," the decision said.
The justices added that while a cellphone could be used to call a third party to provide a getaway ride, that only would occur after the inmate escaped.
The court said that another state law prohibits prison inmates from possessing "a portable telecommunications device," but that prohibition does not apply to the inmates of county jails.
"By its plain and unambiguous language, (state law) does not prohibit county jail inmates from possessing cellphones," wrote Justice Nancy Saitta in the decision signed by Justices Kris Pickering and James Hardesty.
Steve Owens, a deputy Clark County district attorney, said Friday that the decision means counties cannot charge an inmate who has a cellphone with a crime under state law.
"It appears there is no state law that says you can't have cellphones in jail cells," he said. "Some legislation must be passed that pertains to jails before you can do that."
Owens said he read the decision Thursday and thought Pershing County "was making a stretch" when it tried to charge the inmate with using a cellphone as an escape tool.
"Just take it away from him," he added.
Jose Hernandez, the Las Vegas police spokesman, said Thursday that Clark County jailers confiscate cellphones for security reasons and that it is a longstanding policy.
One example of a danger is that an inmate could use a cellphone to advise friends when his court hearing will be held in an attempt to have them bust him out of the courtroom.
Inmates are allowed to use land-line phones in the detention center to contact friends, relatives and lawyers. But when they use these phones, they are told that what they say may be recorded, according to Hernandez. If a cellphone was allowed in jail, the department could not record such messages, he said.
Any cellphones confiscated are placed with inmates' property and returned when they are released.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@ reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.