In early March, a North Carolina man was arrested for making bomb threats in Raleigh. The threats were made against the Collins Aerospace campus in Wilson, North Carolina.
In most cases, these kinds of threats remain under the state’s jurisdiction. However, in this case, the federal government has stepped in and has charged the man instead.
Why is this the case?
Because the man decided to make threats referencing ISIS.
In particular, he sent multiple texts threatening to bomb the Collins Aerospace campus, and one text referenced ISIS. While bomb threats are unfortunately common enough that most states have laws on the books, terrorist threats supersede state jurisdiction.
These threats then become matters of federal concern. There are many complexities around this, and the difference between state and federal penalties is significant.
North Carolina Bomb Threat Laws
In North Carolina, bomb threats are taken seriously. Because of the intense response that typically comes from a bomb threat, many such threats are hoaxes. However, to discourage this kind of terrifying practical joke, bomb threats are treated equally regardless of intent.
Bomb Threats are Considered Threats to Public Safety
The intensity of the response and the potential consequences of an actual attack lead to serious consequences for bomb threats. The act of making a bomb threat is considered to be a threat to public safety. In North Carolina, it’s specifically considered an offense against the public peace.
There are two separate charges for bomb threats, and they hinge on whether or not an educational facility is involved.
Communicating Threats Can Garner Hefty Costs
When this threat is made against a non-educational facility, it receives at minimum a charge of communicating threats. This is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 120 days in jail and a fine at the judge’s discretion.
The judge frequently assigns fines in these cases to cover the resources law enforcement spent to handle the situation. That includes the evacuation of property, police presence at the scene, any bomb squads present, and more. These fines can get quite high.
For Bomb Threats Involving Schools, Penalties Can Get Much Worse
If a bomb threat in North Carolina is made against any kind of educational facility or related extracurricular activity, it becomes a different crime. Specifically, it becomes “making a false report concerning mass violence on educational property.”
This is a new crime on the books, having been signed into law in 2015. Anyone found to have violated this law has committed a Class H felony in North Carolina. That leads to a prison sentence of up to 25 months, as well as another discretionary fine.
Federal Laws Concerning Bomb Threats
The first reason that the North Carolina bomb threats became a federal matter was the reference to ISIS. According to the Antiterrorism Act of 1990, the US Federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over terroristic acts.
That means that federal laws supersede state laws in crimes connected to known terrorist groups. This is the case even if the criminal has no active connection to those groups.
While the North Carolina man charged with this crime was under federal jurisdiction due to terroristic threats, there was another factor, as well. Since he texted his threats, he used a “facility of interstate commerce” in his crime. That places it under federal jurisdiction.
Therefore, the laws the North Carolina man has been federally charged with “threatened use of a weapon of mass destruction.”
Threatened Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction
This charge is purposefully broad. It applies to anyone who maliciously threatens, attempts, or actually uses a weapon that can hurt multiple people or significantly damage property.
The charge carries no term limit and can lead to life in prison. If someone actually kills another while using one of these weapons, they are eligible for the death penalty. Fines may also be added, at the judge’s discretion.
The North Carolina man faces up to life in prison and $250,000 in fines per charge, and he sent six texts. That’s up to $1.5 million in potential fines if he’s convicted.
Comparison of Federal and NC State Laws
Obviously, the federal penalties regarding this crime are much more serious than the state penalties. The difference between 25 months in prison and life is literally life-changing.
The amount of the fine is likely significantly greater than it would otherwise be. The accused would have been in significantly less legal trouble if he had not invoked ISIS or texted his threats.
Currently, his best course of action is to work with a knowledgeable North Carolina criminal attorney. Life in prison is one of the strictest sentences possible. Avoiding this penalty and working with the legal system is his best bet to avoid such a harsh outcome.