School Shooting and Other Terroristic Threats by Juveniles Attorney
If your child is under investigation for or has been charged with a crime involving a threat of school violence such as a terrorist threat or shooting, you need to take it seriously. Prosecutors and judges don’t see these cases as harmless teenage hijinks. And the consequences can be life altering for your child.
What Can My Child Be Charged With?
Although prosecutors have wide discretion to determine what to charge your child with, two charges are most common in school-threat cases.
The first is threatening to use a firearm, explosive, or other weapon against students or school employees on school grounds under MCL 750.235b. To prove the charge, the prosecution must show the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant verbally, through the use of an electronic device or system or through other means, threatened to use a firearm, explosive, or other dangerous weapon to commit an act of violence.
- The threat was directed against a student or school employee.
- The threatened act was to occur on school grounds or school property.
- The threat can be reasonably interpreted to be harmful or adverse to human life or dangerous to human life.
- The threat was intentional.
This crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. But if the defendant intended to carry out the threat or committed an overt act toward carrying out the threat, the crime is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
A more serious offense is making a terrorist threat under MCL 750.543m. To prove that charge, the prosecution must show the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That the defendant communicated with the recipients by speech, writing, gestures, or conduct.
- That during the course of the communication, the defendant threatened to commit an act of terrorism. A threat does not have to be stated in any particular terms but must express a warning of danger or harm. Further, it must have been a true threat, and not have been something like idle talk, or a statement made in jest, or a political comment. It must have been made under circumstances where a reasonable person would think that others may take the threat seriously as expressing an intent to inflict harm or damage.
- To prove that the defendant threatened to commit an act of terrorism, the prosecutor must prove:
- That the defendant communicated that he or she would commit a felony.
- That the defendant knew or had reason to know that committing the felony would be dangerous to human life, meaning that committing the felony would cause a substantial likelihood of death or serious injury, or the felony involved a kidnapping.
- That, by committing the felony, the defendant would intend to intimidate, frighten, or coerce a civilian population, or influence or affect the conduct of government or a unit of government through intimidation.
It doesn’t matter if the defendant could actually commit the felony or actually intended to commit the felony. It only matters that the defendant threatened to commit the felony as an act of terrorism.
Making a terrorist threat is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
Can My Child Be Charged as an Adult?
The short answer is yes, your child—even if under 18 years old—can be charged as an adult for making a threat of school violence. Who decides? In most cases, the prosecutor can request that the child be tried as an adult, and a judge will decide whether to grant that request.
Much depends on the proclivities of your county’s prosecutor’s office and the judge assigned to your case. Some prosecutors—the “tough on crime” variety—routinely request that juveniles be tried as adults, and some judges will oblige them nearly every time. Other prosecutors take a rehabilitative approach and seek adult charges only in the most egregious cases.
Much also depends on the specifics of the case. Was the threat particularly heinous? Does you child have a prior record of criminal behavior? These and similar factors can influence whether a prosecutor wants to charge your child as an adult.
What Will Happen to My Child?
Just because your child has been charged doesn’t mean that a conviction and incarceration is a foregone conclusion. Many cases are defendable on the grounds that the threat was “idle talk” or “made in jest.” Again, few teenagers who threaten school violence intend to follow through on the threat. Depending on the context in which it was communicated, there could be a viable argument that the supposed threat was no threat at all.
But even if the charges are valid, there are still ways to avoid a conviction and incarceration. If the case stays in juvenile court, the child may be placed on the “consent calendar.” The child is essentially put on probation and if he or she successfully completes all the requirements, a disposition will not be entered. Each court has its own practices and procedures when it comes to how they use the consent calendar.
If the case goes to adult court, the child will likely be eligible for a deferral under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (HYTA). Under HYTA, if the child pleads guilty and successfully completes probation—which can include some period of incarceration—a conviction is not entered and the case is dismissed.
Just like with the prosecutor’s decision whether to charge the child as an adult, the outcome of any case will largely depend on the facts.
School Shootings and Terrorist Threats Are More Common Year After Year
Over the past two decades, school shootings have become an agonizing fact of American life. It’s been estimated that there have been nearly 300 school shootings in the past 20 years, exposing more than 250,000 students to gun violence. And with each new tragedy comes a related phenomenon—copycat threats.
After a highly publicized school shooting, other schools will often receive threats of emulative violence. Schools are forced to shut down while the threat is investigated. The result is disruption and fear among students, teachers, and faculty.
In most cases, the threat is not intended seriously. Sometimes, the threat will be made by a student hoping for a day off of school. Other times, a student may only wish to instill fear in disliked classmates, with no intent to follow through on the threat.
The rise of social media has exacerbated the copycat-threat problem. From behind a computer screen, teenagers will often say things they would never say in public. And many copycat threats are made anonymously.
Or so the sender thinks. In reality, police have developed sophisticated methods for tracking down the computer or device a supposedly anonymous threat was sent from. And they’ll come knocking.
Contact Us Right Away
If your son or daughter is under investigation for or has been charged with making a threat of school violence, you need the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact us online or call us at our 24/7 defense hotline at 1-800-342-7896.