One statute that prosecutors across the state of Michigan are at odds over is MCL 750.543m, which is defined as “Making Terrorist Threat or False Report of Terrorism.” This statute carries a 20-year felony and/or a $20,000 fine and states explicitly that intent or capability is not a valid defense. The legislature places this as a strict liability offense, and the application of this law has led to a great deal of controversy.
The language of the statute provides:
A person is guilty of making a terrorist threat or of making a false report of terrorism if the person does either of the following:
- Threatens to commit an act of terrorism and communicates the risk to any other person.
- Knowingly makes a false report of an act of terrorism and communicates the false report to any other person, knowing the report is false.
- It is not a defense to a prosecution under this section that the defendant did not have the intent or capability of committing the act of terrorism.
- While the language of the statute is read to a harsh penalty with the goal of protecting the community, what is up for debate is the intent of the legislature.
To discuss this statute in further detail, we spoke to several of the top criminal lawyers in the state of Michigan.
Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan. Grabel, who is known as having the top criminal defense team throughout the state provided commentary when we said, “This statute is often an overreaction from a prosecutor’s office. We have had several cases where our firm fought to get HYTA for clients that were charged when making a verbal commentary in the school setting. A stronger case for the prosecution comes when a defendant reduces things to writing but quite often words enough lead to a charge. We are seeing a lot of prosecutions pending from Facebook and Snapchat. It’s hard to believe that a comment on social media made among friends could lead to a 20-year felony, but that is where our state legislature has placed people with this statute. As criminal defense lawyers, we need to fight this issue with the passion for keeping people out of the Michigan Department of Corrections.
William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan. Amadeo is known as one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the state of Michigan was quoted as saying, “I have a case where the prosecutor actually offered my client 51 months in prison for an alleged statement made at work. Even after witnesses claimed they did not hear what was said and did not feel threatened, the prosecutor’s office still charged this man. The legislative intent was not to charge people for rants but instead to prosecute for true threats. To put someone’s life at risk for an allegation of a statement without any substantial evidence is a scary proposition. The Michigan Legislature needs to re-evaluate the language of the statute.”
Ravi Gurumurthy is one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the northern part of Michigan. When asked about the statute, Gurumurthy said, “When we see a charge such as this it is critical that the defense attorney is willing to take the matter to trial. There are a lot of constitutional protections that are being disregarded in the application of 750.543m, and when faced with this charge, it is not a black and white criminal case. Instead, the statute crosses over to several different areas of law, and we need to be prepared to advocate in all aspects.”
Grabel went on to add, “When we see this statute in play, we need to turn for guidance to the Osantowski and the Alvarez decisions and we find that research has to be an essential part of the advocacy with this charge. If the case is bound over from District to Circuit Court, there will be a lot of motion practice involved.
While the intent of the statute in question was to protect society from the threat of terrorism, the application has led to attempting to the regulation of a Facebook group chat. MCL 750.543m is a transparent display that even a joke made in the wrong setting could lead to a lengthy prison stay. The criminal defense lawyer will need to be prepared to reach and fight for their client’s freedom on this charge because a bad plea agreement for one defendant could lead to compromising the freedom of many in the future.