While some people know that under Georgia law, threatening to commit a crime of violence is a crime, few of them realize that even making a threat with no intention or means to follow through can also be a crime in some instances. It is also a crime under Georgia law for a person to make a threat of violence in reckless disregard of the risk of:
• causing terror to another;
• evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation; or
• otherwise causing a serious public inconvenience.
This type of situation comes up more frequently than people might imagine, especially with teenagers.
Teens tend to make comments in the heat of the moment, to act tough, or to express an off-color sense of humor. They also have a lot of mediums to express these things, such as text messages, public or private social media messages, and emails. With today’s technology, these communications can be sent out in a moment of frustration or anger and with a sense of disconnection or anonymity from the consequence of their comments.
These comments can include things like: “I’m going to kill you!” “I’m going to beat you up!” “I’m going to kill my teacher!” “I’m going to break your legs!” “I’m going to kill my parents!” “I’m going to blow up my school!” Or any other comment imaginable threatening a crime of violence, directed either at an individual or a group.
These are phrases that a student would not typically shout in a school auditorium, but they are effectively being shouted to every student that the student making the comment is connected with on social media. Comments a teen would not say out loud to another teen are easily sent through a direct, public, or private message threatening the other teen. Comments that may have been made in jest between two friends, are sent in a written format that loses context and tone, which can easily alarm someone who sees it. Sometimes these writings are also in notebooks or on sheets of paper.
Likely in an effort to desensitize themselves from the real danger of school violence, there are also students who make off color jokes about school shootings or students who have running jokes with their circle of friends about those types of behaviors. Even when these students know they are joking among themselves, other students could hear these comments.
Most young people charged with these types of offenses immediately express their remorse and try to explain that they should not be charged with a crime because they were not serious. The families of these teens work to explain how their child does not have the means to carry out any such threat, but these are rarely legal defenses when the charge is made based upon the young person making the comment in reckless disregard for the terror it may cause. However, other defenses may exist, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Any one of these scenarios can lead to the very real possibility of being charged in adult criminal court for individuals 17 and older, or juvenile court charges for individuals 16 and under.
The offense of terroristic threats is a misdemeanor, unless the threat suggests the death of the person threatened. When the death of the person threatened is suggested, then the offense becomes a felony.
For those 17 and older, who are charged as adults under Georgia law, a misdemeanor offense of terroristic threats can carry a maximum penalty of 12 months in jail and a felony charge of terroristic threats can carry a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison. For someone who is 16 or younger, they will face charges in Juvenile Court. When charged in Juvenile Court, there are a large number of options for a Juvenile Court imposing a sentence, including 30 days in the Youth Development Center for felony offenses. There can also be enhanced punishments if the offense of terroristic threats is made against certain government, law enforcement, or judicial personnel.
If a teen makes these kinds of comments at or in relation to their school, they can also face school discipline consequences that could result in expulsion.
While every case is different, and there are other ways to be charged with terroristic threats, it is important to realize that these types of charges can carry very serious punishments. Young people need to be made aware of the potential impacts of these types of comments to help minimize the risk that they make this kind of mistake. If a person is facing this type of allegation, it is extremely important that they obtain an attorney to assist them with the matter.
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