This September, a story went viral in which a teen brought a clock he had invented to his high school so he could show his teachers. The clock was in a pencil case, and his English teacher thought that the clock appeared to be a bomb. CNN reports that the police were called and that the young man, Ahmed Mohamed, was arrested for committing the crime of making a hoax bomb or a fake bomb. The story made national news because the school and police officers were accused of racial profiling, and Ahmed Mohamed was invited to the White House, offered scholarship money, and offered an internship at Facebook.
Independent UK reports that some, including Richard Dawkins, have questioned whether the clock was really invented, whether racial profiling was really in play, and whether Ahmed Mohamed actually did intend for his invention to be mistaken for a bomb, especially after his sister had been previously suspended for a bomb scare three years prior.
The case raises important questions about what exactly constitutes a “hoax bomb,” and what penalties someone can face for making people believe they have a bomb when they don’t.
What is a Hoax Bomb or a False Bomb Threat?
The Ahmed Mohamed case occurred in Texas, which addresses the offense of hoax bombs in Penal Code Annotated Section 46.08. Under this state’s law, it is illegal to knowingly manufacture, sell, purchase, transport, or possess a hoax bomb with the intent to use it to make someone believe it is an incendiary device or with the intent to cause alarm or a reaction of any public safety agency or volunteer agency. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor.
Texas is not the only state where it is illegal to make people believe you have a bomb, even if you do not. New York has several different criminal offenses related to hoax bombs, and NY actually takes the offense more seriously as the offenses are classified as felony crimes. For example:
- New York Penal Code Section 240.61 states a person is guilty of placing a false bomb in the second degree when he or she places, or cause to be placed in a location where it could cause public alarm or inconvenience: “any device or object that by its design, construction, content or characteristics appears to be or to contain, a bomb, destructive device, explosive or hazardous substance” even when it is not actually a bomb. This offense is a Class E felony.
- New York Penal Code Section 240.62 states that a person who places a false bomb on school grounds or in public buildings has committed a crime of placing a false bomb in the first degree. The definition of a false bomb is the same as it is under Code Section 240.61. This offense is a Class D felony.
- New York Penal Code Section 240.63 prohibits placing a false bomb in a sports stadium, a sports arena, an enclosed shopping mall, or a mass transportation facility. The offense, which again uses the same definition of false bomb, is also a Class D felony.
There are a number of defenses to crimes related to hoax bombs, including making the argument that the device did not actually appear to contain a bomb or explosive device. In the case of Ahmed and his clock, the young man insists that he was very clear that the “bomb” was actually a clock and that all parties involved (police and teachers) knew it was not actually a bomb. Still, bomb threats and crimes related to false bombs are taken very seriously and those who are accused need to get qualified legal advice to fight being charged with or convicted of a serious crime.
If you are accused of a crime related to a false bomb or making a bomb threat, contact a NY criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible for assistance defending yourself and trying to avoid a felony conviction.