What Happens if a Student Makes a Fake Bomb Prank at School?

In April, two students at Highland High School were arrested for terroristic threats in Salt Lake City, a serious offense that can be prosecuted as a felony. Their crime? Making a threat that, in the words of school administrators, “appear[ed] to be a hoax.” Their story is a perfect example of how seemingly innocent pranks at school can lead to extremely serious legal consequences.

Hoax Bomb Scare Leads to Terroristic Threats Charges for Utah High School Students

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It’s normal for high school students to horse around and play pranks at school. But sometimes, a joke can go too far – and even if the prankster never intended any harm, they may find that their actions have major repercussions.

“They’re going to learn a tough lesson,” said Highland High Principal Chris Jenson, referring to the students, whose identities were not disclosed. “It’s a bit of a misguided choice they made.”

After the students were apprehended, Jenson issued a formal statement to the community. “To Our Highland Community,” it began:

“Last night, SLPD received information about two Highland students who allegedly planned violence against our school. Both students are in police custody and the threats appear to be a hoax. We take these allegations very seriously. Our number one priority is for the safety of our students and our staff and we are confident that this incident does not pose a danger to our school at this time. We are grateful to the student’s family who brought this to our attention and for the Salt Lake Police Department’s excellent communication and swift response.”

Speaking to reporters from FOX 13, Jenson described the hoax as a “threat of violence, like a shooter scenario against the school.” However, while threatening violence is a crime under state law, the students were actually charged with a different (though closely related) offense known as “threat of terrorism” or “terroristic threats.”

Threat of terrorism is prosecuted under Utah Code § 76-5-107.3, one of the sections of Utah’s criminal code that deals with offenses related to assault. There are several different reasons a person can be charged with threat of terrorism, including, under Utah Code § 76-5-107.3(1)(a)(ii), “threaten[ing] the use of a hoax weapon of mass destruction.” One of Utah’s definitions for a weapon of mass destruction – or in this case, a hoax weapon of mass destruction – is an item that’s “designed or intended to cause widespread death or serious bodily injury to multiple victims,” like a bomb.

In some situations, threatening terrorism is a misdemeanor. For example, making a terroristic threat is a misdemeanor if the offender’s intent is to “cause an official or volunteer agency [that’s] organized to deal with emergencies,” such the local fire department, “to take action” in order to respond to the threat.

However, there are also situations where terrorist threats are felonies. For example, causing a bomb scare – even an imaginary bomb scare – can cause you to be prosecuted for a second degree felony. Only first degree felonies, such as rape and murder, are more seriously dealt with.

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A misdemeanor charge is a very serious matter in its own right, due to consequences like incarceration, fines, and a criminal record. However, felony charges are an even greater concern, not only because the consequences are greater, but because felonies have further reaching effects on job searches, loan applications, gun rights, and other important parts of your personal and professional life.

If committed by an adult, a second degree felony terroristic threat could result in a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, plus a criminal fine of up to $10,000, in addition to probation and other consequences.

Juveniles are not normally tried as adults. However, under Utah’s Serious Youth Offender Law (Utah Code § 78A-6-702), a teenager who has been accused of committing a felony which involves a dangerous weapon may be tried as an adult if the juvenile has a previous conviction or adjudication of a felony offense involving a dangerous weapon.

Contact a Salt Lake Juvenile Defense Attorney if Your Child Was Accused of Calling in a Bomb Threat

Even a hard-working, straight-A student with no prior disciplinary issues can see their academic career derailed by a false bomb threat. A record of threatening violence or acts of terrorism, even in jest, can create serious problems when the student is applying to colleges, looking for volunteer or internship opportunities, and pursuing a career later in life.

You need to make sure that your child’s legal rights will be vigorously protected by a skilled defense attorney. Salt Lake City terroristic threats lawyer Darwin Overson has more than 16 years of experience representing students accused of bringing guns to school, threatening other students, making bomb scares, and other offenses. He will fight tenaciously and aggressively on behalf of your son or daughter.

Your family is probably going through a very difficult and emotional time right now, but you don’t have to face the situation on your own. Turn to Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson for knowledgeable guidance, comprehensive support, and skillful representation. For a free legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 758-2287.