Our daily lives are intertwined with the online world, a world with a lot of reach and visibility, which means anything that is said online is taken very seriously, especially when it comes to online threats. This applies to everyone, including juveniles. Below are a series of answers to commonly asked questions that everyone should be aware of, especially parents. Protecting our youth from themselves starts with having the correct information, and educating them on what is legal, illegal when it comes to online communication and what the consequences could be if an online threat is made.
Is it illegal to threaten someone online?
To be brief, yes you may be charged criminally for making a threat online in Florida. In most cases, you do not need to act on the threat or even have any real intent to follow through with it. Despite us having freedom of speech under the first amendment of the constitution, there are exceptions where speech can be restricted, such as making threats to harm another person. Under Florida statute 836.10 it is unlawful for any person to send, post, or transmit, a writing or other record, including an electronic record, in any way it can be viewed by another person, when in said writing or record the person makes a threat to:
(a) Kill or to do bodily harm to another person or their family; or
(b) Conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism.
What punishment can one face for making online threats?
Under Florida law, making written threats is classified as a second-degree felony. Felony charges typically come with serious punishments, often involving several years of jail time and hefty fines. In the most extreme cases of this nature, defendants found guilty could have to pay up to $10,000 in fines and serve up to 15 years in prison. The specific details of a case, as well as the quality of the legal representation will affect the sentence.
How can one defend themselves from charges of making online threats?
There are several possible legal defense strategies we could employ to help you or your loved one in the case. Depending on the details of the case, the criminal defense lawyer can help you or your loved one beat the case entirely, or at least reduce the severity of the punishment if found guilty. It is advisable to consult with a criminal defense attorney to handle a case specifically.
The two main defense strategies an expert legal team such as Smith and Eulo Law Firm would employ are to deny the communication was sent by the defendant, or to prove the communication was a joke or hoax.
Often, threats are sent online though methods that are hard to trace back to the defendant and could possibly be sent by someone impersonating another person. For this reason, you should never make a statement to law enforcement, instead contact a criminal defense attorney who can present your side of the story.
A threat typically involves the defendant being able to, and having the intention to, carry out the threat. Many statements that lead to people being charged with making an online threat to kill are not actually threats because they are contingent on a future event and not intended to be an immediate action. Therefore, a common defense for making online threats is that the “threat” was a joke, hoax, or statement with no real intent for action.
Keep your kids safe
Many cases we see of making an online threat to kill involve juvenile defendants. Frequently kids and teenagers do not realize the consequences of their actions and can recklessly send things over the internet which they think is just a funny joke. Many times, these jokes take place while the juvenile is communicating with online friends while playing video games or on social media platforms such as snapchat and twitter.
It is important to educate your children, no matter how funny they may feel it is, serious legal action including possible jail time can result from their statements made online. Recently, as we have seen a rise in the number of tragic school shootings, we have also seen an increase in the number of juvenile online threats charges being pursued by the prosecutor’s office. This legitimate attempt to keep our schools safe, unfortunately results in several juveniles who were never considering hurting anyone to have the burden of dealing with felony charges.
If your child has been charged with making online threats to kill or do bodily harm, contact us now for expert legal advice and representation. We offer free consultations to all potential clients.
Need defense against online threat charges?
Everyone is entitled to professional representation when charged with a crime. Smith & Eulo Law Firm is here for you, give us a call for a free consultation. We are available 24/7 and have offices in most counties across the state of Florida.
*Additional Orlando Florida & Orange County Legal Resources