Thinking About Pulling A Prank On Someone? Consider This First

Posted on: 9 May 2016

Every so often, a prank goes too far—and that can lead to big trouble for the prankster. What most people don't realize is that there are often serious legal repercussions for pranks that cross the line. If you're remotely tempted to try to prank someone, this is what you should consider first. 

It isn't harmless fun.

Pranks can cost a lot of money, deplete government resources, and terrify victims. For example, one form of prank that's trending is called "swatting." It's a malicious sort of prank that began in gaming circles—pranksters report that a hostage or terrorist-type situation is in place at someone's (the victim of the prank) home. Authorities break out the SWAT teams and respond, wasting precious police resources and traumatizing the unsuspecting victims when they barge in with guns. Pranks like that run the chance of costing someone their life, and authorities end up having to spend a great deal of money to track down the origins of the prank. This gives authorities a great deal of incentive to track down the pranksters and prosecute them.

You can be charged with several crimes.

Pranks that put someone in fear of their life or end up involving the police are treated as crimes. Depending on the type of prank that you pull, you could find yourself facing a number of different charges:

  • Terroristic threats - This is a broad term that essentially criminalizes speech that intentionally causes terror, harm, intimidation, or disruption to government functions. Calling in a bomb threat to a school, for example, is now often treated as a terroristic threat.
  • Property damage - Some pranks induce others to damage private property. For example, a trending prank involves convincing the employees of several fast food restaurants to break out the windows of the restaurant in order to prevent a natural gas buildup and explosion. If the pranksters are caught, they'll likely face additional felony charges for the significant property damage involved.
  • Hate crimes - If the police suspect that the underlying motive for your prank is related to the victim's race, religion, sexuality, gender identification, disability, or national origin, you could face additional charges related to a hate crime. 

It isn't easy to defend against the charges.

If you do make a mistake and get involved in a prank that results in legal charges, you want the best lawyers that you can find to represent you, because the consequences can be severe. For example, pranks that are labelled as hate crimes can be prosecuted under both state and federal laws and are often considered felonies, even if no one is actually harmed as a result. If federal charges are brought, you could easily face 10 years or more in prison.

In addition to a lengthy jail term, you could also face large fines or costs for restitution in order to repay the government for the cost of any investigation or police actions related to the prank. You'll need skilled legal counsel to help you either offer a defense to the charges or negotiate a plea bargain (which can result in reduced charges and significantly less jail time).