Even “hoax” threats can land you in federal prison

Making a threat of violence is not the harmless prank that some people might believe it is. At a time when mass shootings in schools, workplaces and public spaces are all too common, law enforcement authorities at all levels take bomb, shooting and other threats of harm very seriously.

Even when they’re a hoax, they can necessitate evacuations, shutdowns and other interruptions and take up law enforcement and other resources that are often in short supply. In the past months, historically Black colleges and universities (HCBUs), including some here in North Carolina, have been targeted with bomb threats that have forced the cancelation of classes and caused considerable fear and anxiety.

Making a threat via text, email, phone or social media is a federal crime. That’s because it’s considered a “threatening interstate communication.” It can land a person in federal prison for as long as five years.

Communicating threats is a crime under North Carolina law as well

In North Carolina, threatening someone “orally, in writing, or by any other means” is a Class 1 misdemeanor if the threat is “made in a manner and under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to believe that the threat is likely to be carried out; and the person threatened believes that the threat will be carried out.”

These days, when so much communication is done via electronics without having to face the person you’re communicating with (and, on social media, often not knowing who they are), it’s easy to say things you’d never say face-to-face or even on a phone call. Deleting a post doesn’t erase the fact that it was there.

If you or a loved one is facing federal and/or state charges for making threats, it’s crucial to take the matter seriously, even if the threat was never going to be acted on.  It’s wise to seek experienced legal guidance as early as possible.