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Georgia lawmakers consider increasing penalties for “swatting”

On Behalf of | Feb 18, 2024 | Criminal Defense

There was a time when some people – particularly young people – might have thought it was nothing more than a prank to call 911 and falsely claim there was serious criminal activity going on at a particular address to get police to go there and startle or frighten the homeowners or whomever was at the location.

This practice is known as “swatting” because the description of the activity and urgent need of response is sometimes so serious that a SWAT team is sent. It’s become a way of harassing and frightening well-known people like judges and lawmakers whom the swatters disagree with or dislike. Schools, hospitals and places of worship have also even been targets of this unlawful practice in recent years.

Why swatting is dangerous

Technology has “improved” the ability to make the calls seem very real. Everything from AI voices to caller ID “spoofing” have made it difficult for dispatchers to tell if a call is real or fake. Law enforcement needs to err on the side of assuming that someone really is in danger.

Swatting can result in innocent people being injured or killed in the confusion and chaos of law enforcement showing up with guns drawn, prepared for anything. Law enforcement – and the law – don’t treat it as a prank. It’s a criminal offense – one that could soon result in even harsher penalties than it now carries.

Penalties under the proposed law

Georgia congressmembers and the lieutenant governor have been the victims of swatting. So has one Georgia state senator. He has introduced a bill to increase the penalties for swatting that seems to have strong support. Under the proposed legislation, a first offense would be a felony if it results in injury or death. It would carry a potential prison sentence of up to ten years as well as a $5,000 fine.

If there are no injuries, it would be a misdemeanor unless it interferes with “criminal infrastructure.” A second offense, even with no injuries, would carry that potential ten-year sentence and fine. The length of incarceration and amount of fines would increase with each conviction. Defendants can also be ordered to pay restitution to their victims.

When someone makes a fake call to 911 claiming that criminal activity is occurring, they have no way of knowing what could happen when police arrive on the scene. That’s why it’s so critical not to get involved in this activity if someone around you is planning it. With that said, if you or your child is facing a swatting charge, your best first step is to get experienced legal guidance.