Criminal Law

No Joking Matter: Real Fallout from Fake Scares

We live in an age where fake bomb threats carry a heavy burden. After 9/11, law enforcement officials can't treat fake bomb threats with humor. Bomb scares in airports, cruise ships and other public transportation hubs have created commotion and delays. But what are the consequences of such pranks?

Recent Threats

In March 2010, a drunk passenger on a Carnival Cruise Ship caused much anger and fear with his fake bomb threat. On the way back from Nassau, Bahamas, a passenger yelled that a bomb was about to explode. He also referenced a Jihad, the Arabic term for a holy war commonly associated with terrorism.

While no bomb was found, the passenger, 31-year-old Ibrahim Khalil Zarou, was arrested and charged with falsely threatening to detonate a bomb. His prank resulted in delays and missed connections for many of the boat's passengers.

In California, Huntington Beach High School had two incidents of bomb threats within one month. Police arrested two students after they found explosives, gunpowder and nails in a car and at a student's home. While arrested on various counts, including bomb possession, there is no evidence they planned to detonate the bombs in the school.

In Texas, Randall Dawson had to go to court after being accused of creating a fake bomb in the bathroom of a grocery and threatening to blow the store up unless the employees gave him money.

In Staten Island, New York, a 17-year-old has been charged with making a terrorist threat. He left a bomb note on a computer screen in an Apple Store. The police were called and he was arrested. While he defended his prank as an innocent joke, the prosecutor argued this threat must be taken seriously, especially considering the level of threats in the US.

In Salinas, California, 53-year old Kurtis Thorsted was sentenced to 30 months in prison after making fake mayday signals. He called the Coast Guard and told them he was in a kayak near Santa Cruz and couldn''t get to shore. However, Kurtis was actually at home and safe. Kurtis had 51 false distress messages in the course of six months and has cost the Coast Guard over $100,000 in search costs.

The Consequences

As schools, airports, stores and even cruise ships have had to take emergency measures to deal with these false threats, these agencies aren't treating such pranks lightly. They're following up on charges and forcing the perpetrators to pay for the consequences of their actions. People have even been sent to prison for pranks and false threats.

Courts are also charging kids who pull such pranks, making them go through the legal system to understand the consequences of their actions. Such pranks end up being costly. Sometimes law enforcement uses many resources and manpower to locate these "bombs."

Perhaps a decade ago, such pranks weren't as serious and didn't carry such intense penalties and consequences. However, in today's age, that's no longer the case. Such scares and false threats are no longer viewed as silly pranks. Instead, they're considered a serious threat, no matter how old the person who created the prank is.

Bottom line: it's simply not funny to create a fake bomb scare or other emergency. Such a threat will be taken seriously and many resources will be wasted. Further, courts are growing impatient and intolerant and will likely charge perpetrators with these pranks. Punishment can include payment of fines and even prison sentences.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is this the same idea as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater?
  • Do I have any recourse if I think I've been wrongly arrested because of a fake bomb scare?
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