In March 2019, a teenager in Charlottesville was arrested after making online threats towards certain groups at Charlottesville schools. Making threats online through social media or videos is a serious offense in Virginia and could result in felony criminal charges. Unfortunately, some people who have no intent to harm anyone and are simply venting online can get caught up in criminal charges and a felony record.
If you or your child were accused of making online threats, contact your Charlottesville criminal defense lawyer to make sure your rights are defended and avoid a costly criminal record. Contact me today for a free consultation.
Charlottesville City School Threats
According to news reports, a 17-year-old boy was arrested in March over “a racist threat of violence” the boy allegedly posted online. As a result of the threats, Charlottesville City Schools were closed for two days.
The threats took the form of an online posting by a person claiming to by a student at Charlottesville High School, warning white students to stay home from school to engage in “ethnic cleansing” by shooting non-white students
After a two-day investigation, the police arrested the 17-year-old, who was not a student at the school. The boy was charged with threatening to cause death or bodily harm on school grounds and online harassment.
Criminal Online Threats in Virginia
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-60, any person who communicates a threat in a writing to kill or do bodily harm on the grounds of any school property, bus, or school event, that would place a person who is the object of the threat in reasonable apprehension of death or bodily harm, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
Under the statute, a threat in writing includes “an electronically transmitted communication producing a visual or electronic message.” This could include:
- Twitter message,
- Instagram post,
- Facebook message,
- Text message,
- Youtube video,
- Email, or
- Snapchat message.
The threat of harm does not actually need to be received by the person who is the object of the threat. For example, if a student posts a Facebook message that he or she is going to shoot a teacher at school, if that threat would place a teacher in reasonable apprehension of death or bodily harm, the teacher does not actually have to have seen or read the message for the threat to be a crime.
The penalties for a conviction of a Class 6 felony include from one year to five years imprisonment, or, in the discretion of the court, confinement in jail for up to 12 months and a fine of up to $2,500.
Harassment by Computer
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-152.7:1, harassment by computer involves using a computer with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass any person through communicating obscene, vulgar, profane, lewd, lascivious, or indecent language, or make an obscene proposal, or threaten any illegal or immoral act.
Harassment by computer is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia, with penalties including up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Charlottesville Criminal Defense Lawyer
A young person making threats online may not intend to cause anyone fear of injury or death. However, online threats of school violence are taken very seriously by school officials and law enforcement. Anyone charged with making online threats still deserves to have their constitutional rights protected and should be entitled to a strong legal defense. If you are arrested for online harassment or making threats, talk to an experienced Charlottesville criminal defense attorney about your rights.