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Terroristic threats are a trap for unwary teens and preteens

If you're old enough to have children in school, you probably remember a time when threatening to set fire to your English teacher's desk or making an offhanded comment about wanting to shoot the whole band was either treated like a joke or -- at most -- cause for suspension. Doing something foolish like calling in a bomb threat in order to get out of a final exam for another day was likely to net you an expulsion.

It probably wouldn't put you in jail on a felony charge of making terroristic threats, however, which is exactly what is happening to both teenagers and preteens these days.

In large part, the change in response over the years has developed as a result of increasing social and political unrest as well as acts of terrorism both by foreign and domestic extremists. While most people realize that teens and preteens are prone to both exaggeration and poor judgment, people simply no longer feel comfortable taking the chance that a student making a flip remark about blowing up a building because he or she got an "F" on a test is actually just blowing off steam instead of plotting a real explosion.

For example, a 12-year-old boy was charged with a second-degree felony for terroristic threatening after he posted the image online of a clown threatening to kill 6th graders at his school. This was during a period of time where there were "creepy clown" sightings all over Florida. People dressed as clowns were supposedly trying to lure children away from their homes and schools.

The student just thought he was being funny. Even though police officers quickly traced his post and knew it wasn't real, they still responded in full force to the school the next day to make sure that the children were safe.

Parents need to understand the seriousness of these issues and talk to their children about what can happen if they cross the line. It's also important to understand that laws against terrorism punish the intent of the action, not the actual act itself. If the threat merely seems designed to terrify someone, that's terrorism -- even if no actual violence was ever intended.

If your son or daughter has been charged with making terroristic threats, he or she needs an attorney immediately. Contact a criminal defense attorney with experience handling serious felonies as soon as possible.

Source: FindLaw, "Terrorism and Terroristic Threats," accessed May 17, 2017

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