The Crime and Punishment of “SWATTING”
Video games provide a forum in which players of the game can leave reality and delve into fantasy scenarios and act in a way that is permitted by the game. Video games have the reputation of being whimsical and fun, but also violent and an instigator of violent characteristics seen in many of its users. Most times, especially in the more violent and war-reenactment games, what may be permissive in the game is illegal in real life. The users, however, are not being criminally cited until now, with the impact of a new gaming technique, called “SWATTING” on the rise around the United States.
What is SWATTING?
“SWATTING” is a popular gaming “prank”, where a player of a game makes a hoax call to emergency services to draw a law enforcement team, or SWAT team, to the real house of a virtual competitor. Generally the caller tells the 9-1-1 dispatcher that there is a bomb that is to go off or a hostage situation in the home of a competitor so that the SWAT teams are used to antagonize and hinder the virtual competitor’s ability to compete. This prank has been seen all around the country, and has made its way to Florida with several prank phone calls to Floridian gamers.
This type of prank creates an extremely dangerous situation where the SWAT teams are not only diverted from real emergencies, but are brought to neighborhoods that are put on lockdown, and the guns are pointed at any suspects involved with the supposed emergency situation. One wrong move by an innocent bystander or an oblivious gamer in his/her home, and the SWAT team may shoot thinking the situation is lethal.
Nationwide, states are beginning to respond to the prank by drafting their own legislation criminalizing the practice. So far, there have been several hackers identified in the SWATTING prank who have received significant prison sentences. One teenager is serving an 11-year sentence for SWATTING for years against his competitors. Another in Massachusetts is serving a 30-month sentence in federal prison.
The SWAT Act, Anti-SWATTING Act, and the Interstate SWATTING Hoax Act
Two bills made their way to Congress over the last year but never made it to President Obama. The first one was known as the SWAT Act, also known as Senate Bill 1018, and the second one was known as the Anti-Swatting Act of 2015, also known as House Bill 2031. Recently, there has been another push toward introducing federal legislation; this was introduced as the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act, which creates a criminal offense of falsely communicating to emergency services a fake incident in order to create an emergency response.
The Interstate SWATTING Hoax Act
According to the Act, if one does communicate (no matter through what type of telecommunications medium) and an emergency response precipitates as a result, the person will be fined and/or will be imprisoned for up to five years. If serious bodily injury results, imprisonment could last up to 20 years. If as a result of false communication a death results, the person may be imprisoned without a maximum sentence and potentially for the rest of his/her life. There are also civil damages that may result, which could include the reimbursement for the emergency services provided, the liability for any expenses resulting from the response by the emergency services.
The Holes in Anti-SWATTING Legislation
The one thing that has been difficult to remedy with regards to the Anti-SWATTING legislation deals with the fact that a good percentage of those who are involved in these types of pranks are under the age of 18, and as such, their minor status makes punishment more difficult. Even with a federal law in place, there could be serious loopholes for the under-18 crowd and it would be best for states to ensure there are anti-SWATTING laws to fill those holes.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
SWATTING is a very serious offense and can have significant and dangerous ramifications. An experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can provide legal advice to those who may not have realized the significant ramifications of what they may have construed as a “harmless” prank. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.