In light of the recent news surrounding the evacuation of local schools due to various threats and the prosecution of those allegedly responsible, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at the laws dealing with these situations. Generally, defendants who have circulated a threat causing the evacuation of a school are charged with Inducing Panic. This charge states that “No person shall cause the evacuation of any public place, or otherwise cause serious public inconvenience or alarm, by . . . initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime, or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false.”
Inducing Panic is a second-degree felony when the public place is a school or an institution of higher learning. As such, the defendant, if she is an adult, is facing the possibility of two to eight years in prison. Also, the adult felony inducing panic charge cannot be sealed – as a result an eighteen year old who is convicted of inducing panic as a felony would have a permanent felony on his record as a result of a bad choice as a teenager.
If the defendant is a juvenile, then he or she could be held in juvenile detention for up to 90 days or could be sentenced to the department of youth services ((“DYS”) which is essentially juvenile prison) until age 21. If the Court opts to impose a DYS sentence then the Court must impose at least a one year DYS commitment. Additionally, many juvenile courts have a local rehabilitation facility, such as Mary Haven in Warren County, where they can incarcerate a defendant while he or she completes a four to six month program.
There is also a lesser version of this offense, Making False Alarms, which is generally a misdemeanor of the first degree. The main difference between making false alarms and inducing panic is whether the public inconvenience or alarm was serious. “Serious public inconvenience or alarm” is not defined either by case law or in the statutes, making it somewhat of a vague concept.
Arguing the “seriousness” of the offense when it is charged as a felony is just one tactic an experienced criminal defense attorney can use as part of defense strategy. Please contact an experienced criminal defense attorneys at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima for a free consultation.