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We Are Not Amused: When Does a Joke Become a Crime?

When is a joke more than a joke? It might sound like a riddle, but the answer can have serious legal ramifications. That’s because the answer is “when a joke is actually a crime.” Today we’re looking at some situations when a so-called joke has led to trouble for the would-be comedian.

Jokes About Bombs on Planes: Not Funny

If you’ve flown anywhere since 9/11, you know that passengers are routinely asked if they’ve been asked to carry a package or if they’ve left their luggage unattended. It’s never a good idea to make a joke in response. Just ask the NFL wide receiver Trevor Davis, whose offhand comment about explosives in his suitcase landed him in L.A. County jail, charged with making a false report of a bomb. Although he was released and the charges were dropped, plenty of other jokesters haven’t been so lucky.

According to 18 U.S. Code 35, often referred to as the “bomb hoax” law, the potential penalties for such behavior include up to five years’ imprisonment, up to $5,000 in fines, or a combination.

Jokes About Guns in School: Not Humorous

It’s somewhat surprising that anyone can find humor in the topic of deadly mass shootings, particularly those that take place in schools. In 2018, however, one Texarkana, TX man thought he’d give his Instagram followers a chuckle by posting a picture of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle captioned “I’m thinking about finally going back to school.” Some of those who saw the post contacted authorities. Police and FBI agents arrested Ricky Jared Rankin, then 24, outside his home.

Jokes About Sexual Harassment: No Laughing Matter

Finally, there are jokes made at another person’s expense that rise to the level of harassment in the workplace. A raunchy video, a sexually explicit meme, an innuendo-laden comment, and even a remark about someone’s appearance can be considered harassment. This is true even if the person responsible for making the comment or sharing the content says things like “Hey, I was just kidding around,” or “Jeez, can’t you take a joke?” or “You’re too serious-you need to chill out.”

Have You Made a Dumb Joke?

Of course, jokes don’t necessarily lead to criminal charges, even those that directly hint at committing a real crime. But authorities take such matters seriously, and in some instances, a playful or silly comment does lead to an arrest. In other cases, joking remarks can trigger a criminal investigation-no laughing matter.

We all make mistakes, and there’s no one on the planet who hasn’t said something they’ve regretted down the line (or immediately). If you find yourself in this situation, contact Razumich & Associates. Our experienced, understanding defense attorneys can help-but only if you call us at 317-983-5333.

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