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Can social media postings be interpreted as criminal?

Most people probably don’t take their social media postings too seriously. However, there are situations that warrant more care, as a recent story illustrates.

Specifically, a 16-year-old student in Washington, D.C. was recently charged as a juvenile with felony threats. Authorities arrested the student after they discovered his Instagram posting. The student had posted a photo of himself with a caption of “school shooter” and two emoji of guns.

In Virginia, a threat to inflict bodily injury upon another is defined as simple assault and punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. If the threat was made against a person based on a protected category, such as race, religious conviction, color or national origin, the penalty upon conviction could include imprisonment up to six months.

In today’s example, the student was charged under the neighboring jurisdiction’s assault laws. Our criminal defense law firm would question whether the intention of the alleged offense was present. We have represented juveniles against criminal charges, and in our experience, many of those clients did not appreciate the seriousness of the criminal consequences they were facing.

For example, juvenile clients may assume that prosecutors, when offering a plea deal, have their best interests in mind. To the contrary, there could be various motivations behind the offer, even practical ones like an overburdened criminal docket. 

Our lawyers work hard to help juvenile defendants protect their future. Even a misdemeanor conviction might have consequences, potentially interfering with college applications, loans or future employment. If a minor made a mistake, our lawyers will work hard to help obtain the best outcome and set them on a path of better future choices.

Source: Washington Post, “D.C. student is arrested over apparent school threat on social media,” Peter Hermann, April 4, 2017

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