School shootings are all over the news. No matter what your views are on guns and gun control, you cannot deny that school shootings are happening at schools across the United States and that as a parent, there are few scenarios more terrifying than your child being a victim.
You also cannot deny that adolescents often speak without thinking and can say inappropriate things as jokes or amid emotional outbursts. When a child says “I’m going to kill you” or “I’d love to shoot up this school,” he or she can be charged with making a terroristic threat which is a violation of MCL750.543m. In Michigan, dozens upon dozens of children have been prosecuted this year alone for making a terroristic threat at school. This is a very serious felony and the charges are taken very seriously by schools, law enforcement and the courts since past school shooters demonstrated warning signs that were ignored by officials. Local officials at all levels in other places have taken note that negative attention and responsibility will come back to them if they do not take every accusation seriously and a child ends up committing a heinous crime later. As a result, many kids who would not have been prosecuted in the past are being charged with very serious crimes and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. School districts often move to expel children who have never posed a previous threat or problem at school. This is a totally separate legal action from the criminal prosecution.
Our firm recently handled a case in Oakland County where the child’s school sought expulsion and criminal prosecution where the child wrote on a bathroom wall “Don’t come to school on Tuesday.” No other aggravating factors. In Macomb County, we recently defended a child facing a 20 year felony who allegedly told one other student that “I would like to be a school shooter.” The only other evidence was a photo of a single gun on his phone. There was no actual threat. These cases get prosecuted and parents often think they are dealing with reasonable people and their kids are good and that they will be able to show up and explain the situation and it will all be dealt with. Those days are gone. The system is trying to protect the public and ITSELF. Unfortunately, you are taking a very serious risk if your child is charged with Making a Terroristic Threat in Michigan, under MCL 750.543m, or under investigation, and you cooperate with investigators and trust that elected officials are going to do what’s best for your child.
How a Joke can be Prosecuted as a Threat
Every threatening statement, however vague, can be prosecuted. Terroristic threats are charged as felonies, and when an individual is convicted of this charge, he or she can face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000. Prosecutors are routinely seeking immediate incarceration through requests to detain the child in a juvenile detention facility while the case is pending. This is to provide safety to the public in the rare occasion when the accused poses an actual threat and to send a message to the public and other kids that the local prosecutor is “tough on crime”. It is very important you have legal representation prior to the first court appearance. In Michigan, individuals age 17 and over are tried as adults. In certain cases, namely those in which the minor’s charge would be a felony if an adult had committed it, it is possible for the court to try an individual as young as 14 as an adult.
Consequences for Students who Make Shooting Threats
Even when a minor does not face the adult consequences for being found guilty of making a terroristic threat, he or she can be adjudicated in juvenile court and required to comply with the penalties the court deems to be appropriate. In juvenile court, the court has greater discretion to determine an appropriate disposition for a minor offender and may require a juvenile to:
- Complete an anger management course;
- Be placed under court supervision;
- Perform community service; and/or
- Serve time in a juvenile correctional facility.
What to do if Your Child is Accused of Making a Violent Threat
The short answer to this question is to get experienced legal counsel involved immediately. Attorneys unfamiliar with the nature of these cases may assume cooperation with police is appropriate where the parents don’t believe their child is an actual threat. They feel investigators will realize this and everything will be ok if they cooperate. Often, law enforcement personnel at the first level are the most reasonable. They will take a report and pass it on. However, the danger in these cases lies in the politics of the issue. Every law enforcement person, school official, prosecutor and judge want to be seen as no nonsense on this issue. As a result, many kids who pose no real threat but may have blurted out one stupid sentence are trapped in a very serious situation where the system will sacrifice them for the “greater good” and political ambition.
Law enforcement will likely to search your child’s person, electronics, or your home. Do not consent to a search unless the officer has a valid search warrant. There may be innocent things on their phone or computer that will be perceived as evidence against them in these cases or could be used to prosecute other charges such as child pornography. Unfortunately, police are not trying to clear your child or allegations as much as they are looking for circumstantial evidence such as unusual web searches, photos that show a fascination with guns or violence, youtube search histories, etc. Deep searches of the phones of many innocent people will reveal material that could be used against them in a prosecution. There may be times when cooperation is appropriate but you should not make panicked decisions on these very important issues. Instruct your child to avoid interacting with law enforcement beyond polite acknowledgment and discuss his or her rights while in custody and while being interrogated, which include the right to have a lawyer present during questioning. It is best to have representation as early as possible in one of these cases. They are very tricky because of politics and every case is different. Making these decisions when you have are inexperienced in all of the factors is risky. If you are not sure of your child’s civil rights, speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to educate yourself on this topic.
Contact a juvenile defense lawyer as soon as possible to start working on your child’s legal defense strategy. He or she will advise you about how to proceed with the case.
Work with an Experienced Bloomfield Hills Criminal Defense Lawyer
If your child is facing a criminal charge including Making a Terroristic Threat, it is your job to secure competent legal counsel for him or her as soon as possible. You might not approve of your child’s alleged action, but an adjudication on his or her record can have a permanent, negative impact on your child’s life. In many instances, the juvenile system is reasonable with kids. But there are certain charges and types of conduct where other factors dictate a less than compassionate approach to justice and you do not want to look back on the situation later with regret about trusting “the system”. Contact Michigan Defense Law today to set up your initial legal consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help you be an advocate for your child.