Criminal Charges for Causing Alarm in New Jersey

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Most people know that you can get in trouble for yelling out “fire” in a crowded movie theater or for pulling a fire alarm in a convention center or hotel. But many are unaware of the stakes. Schoolchildren who pull an alarm at school or write a message about a potential act of may face juvenile court proceedings, and adults who engage in similar conduct can face felony-level criminal charges, even if no one gets hurt. A number of specific New Jersey statutes prohibit calling in bomb threats and otherwise causing a panic in public places. If you have been accused of creating an alarm, you should know about the criminal charges you may be facing and get knowledgeable legal counsel right away. Our talented team of criminal defense lawyers routinely represents clients charged with assault and threat crimes in Hudson County and throughout New Jersey and we can help with your case. Contact our local offices in Jersey City if you have questions about a terroristic threats, public alarm, weapons charge, or another type of criminal case. Our attorneys provide cost-free, no obligation consultations 24/7. Receive yours by contacting us online or calling (201) 793-8018 today.

What Is the Charge for Making or Reporting a Threat in NJ?

If you cause or report a bomb threat, impending shooting, explosive, or another potential act of violence to a school, government building, movie theater, or other public place, you can face one of two main criminal charges in New Jersey. The first charge is for making a “terroristic threat,” and the second is for “creating a false public alarm.” You likely will not face both of these charges if you create a public emergency, especially because the latter charge requires a report of an illegitimate threat by anyone, while the former may be an actual threat that you made to harm someone else. The following explores the similarities and differences between these two serious crimes, as well as the respective punishments for each.

Accused of Threatening Violence in Hudson County

It is illegal to make terroristic threats under NJSA 2C:12-3. For prosecutors prove that you made a terroristic threat, they must prove that you threatened to commit a violent crime, and that you made that threat for the purpose of terrorizing another person or in reckless disregard for whether you might terrorize that other person. You can also be convicted if you made the threat for the purpose of causing the evacuation of a building, an assembly center, or a public transit hub or facility, or if you made the threat with a reckless disregard for the potential of evacuation or public inconvenience.

A prosecutor must establish that you made a serious threat. This means that they must establish which violent crime you threatened to commit. New Jersey appellate case law indicates that if you only threatened to commit a disorderly persons offense, for example, that likely does not constitute a serious threat to commit a violent crime. The prosecutor must also establish that the alleged victim would reasonably believe the threat. To illustrate this point, imagine that you tell a buddy that you’re “going to kill them” after they pull a prank on you. A prosecutor would likely have trouble proving that the other person reasonably believe that you were going to carry out what you said purely in jest.

The penalties for a terroristic threat conviction are harsh. If you are convicted of a standard terroristic threat offense, you will likely face sentencing on a third degree indictable offense, carrying up to $15,000 in penalties and up to 5 years in state prison. If, however, you are convicted of making a terroristic threat during a period of state, county, or national emergency, you can be sentenced for a second degree indictable offense carrying up to ten years in prison and fines up to $150,000. Since states of emergency are relatively rare, it is similarly rare to be charged with this type of second terroristic threats offense.

What Does It Mean to Create a False Public Alarm in NJ?

If you call in a bomb threat, pull a fire alarm, or make a prank call 911, you can be charged with a similar but distinct violation of NJSA 2C:33-3, a law that criminalizes creating a false public alarm. Prosecutors can prove that you committed this crime if they establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you made a report or warning about a bombing, fire, catastrophe, crime (like a shooting), or other emergency that you knew was false and might cause an unnecessary evacuation. They can also prove a violation of this statute if they establish that you called in a false alarm to police, government officials, or first-responders, or that you called 911 for any reason outside making a valid request for emergency services.

This crime is similar to terroristic threats in that you can be convicted of it if you call in a false threat that results in the evacuation of a building or designed to cause the evacuation of a building. However, it differs from the terroristic threat statute in that prosecutors do not have to prove that you threatened to commit a violent crime. They can instead prove that you falsely reported an incident to first responders or 911, period.

You can be charged with a fourth, third, second, or even a first degree indictable offense for creating a false public alarm, depending on the specific facts of your offense. Specifically, there are lighter penalties for a prank 911 call, more severe penalties if someone was injured as a result of your false public alarm, and the most severe penalties if someone was injured as a result of your false public alarm during a declared state of emergency. Even the lightest of the possible sentences you face (for a fourth degree indictable offense) involves a fine of up to $10,000 and a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison. The harshest penalty you can face (for a first-degree indictable offense), involves a fine of up to $200,000 and a sentence of up to twenty years in prison.

Looking for a Lawyer to Defend a Threats Case in Secaucus NJ

If you are accused of making terroristic threats or causing a false public alarm in Jersey City or any other town in Hudson County or New Jersey, it is imperative to contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer, given the gravity of the consequences you are facing. Call (201) 793-8018 to discuss your charges with a member of our team free of charge. We can examine the evidence in your case and determine the best course of action.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.