San Diego Lawmakers Attempt to Address School Threats in Legislation

Last month, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis came out in public support of the new bill authored by State Sen. Marty Block (D- San Diego), SB 456, which would distinctly make it a misdemeanor crime for someone to threaten to fire a firearm on private and public school campuses.  The bill was originally introduced in February.  In the last two years alone, Dumanis states that the number of students suspended and expelled for making a terrorist threat in San Diego County has risen 35 percent, from 62 in 2011-12 to 84 students in 2013-14, according to data from the state Department of Education.  More than 130 threats to schools in the San Diego Unified School District were made over the past three years.  Statewide figures also show an increase, but at a slower rate than the San Diego School District.

Under current law, those types of crimes are charged under Penal Code 422, a generic charge for someone making a criminal threat. Specifically, the current Penal Code requires that one caused a “reasonable fear” within the person(s) threatened.  If the bill becomes law, a school firearm threat, for example, would become a specific crime subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in county jail.  The new law would remove the fear requirement and require those convicted to pay for any reasonable emergency response costs incurred by the public agency responding to the threat.

The Juvenile Process

Unless otherwise stated (and the bill doesn’t), most students that will be charged under this new proposed law will likely be juveniles, under the age of 18.  The CA Courts website lays out some specific information about the juvenile court process, but here is a basic breakdown:

  • California juvenile court process begins with an arrest.  If the incident is not serious, police may give just a warning.  They may also give the minor a citation to appear in court at a later date, but allow the minor to go home in the meantime.
  • If the matter is serious, the police will take the minor to juvenile hall.  In these cases, hiring a good attorney is highly recommended.
  • Even if the minor is taken to juvenile detention, s/he may not have to stay there.  Probation officers have the choice to also send him or her home until the specified court date.
  • If the minor is kept in juvenile detention, there are several correctional facilities that house juveniles throughout the state.
  • As the minor’s case proceeds, there may or may not be hearings (ie. detention hearings, fitness hearings)
  • Finally, at the end of the process, a judge will either find the minor guilty or not guilty just like any other criminal trial.  This will be based on the severity of the case, the minor’s past record, etc.  Typically, the minor will have to be on probation for awhile and do community service.  It is general public policy to keep youth out of prisons and rehabilitate them before they become adults.

San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

The Law Offices of David M. Boertje handles all misdemeanor and felony criminal cases, including juvenile ones. We are dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom, and have successfully represented many defendants, including those that have been charged with making criminal threats.  Oftentimes, the accusations are exaggerated or frivolous, and the person could not have “reasonably” feared for his or her safety.  If you or your child has been charged with a crime, reach out to us today for an initial consultation.