MADISON (WKOW) — Two area lawmakers are seeking to create a new felony charge for people who threaten to damage property or cause injury or death, even if they aren’t seeking to carry out such a threat.
Current law provides a felony charge for people calling in a bomb threat without the means to carry it out, but there is no felony charge in the statutes for threatening to cause injury or damage by shooting or other means if the threat is not credible.
Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg) introduced legislation last Friday that stems from a May 2014 incident where 21 year-old Dakota Berndt of Reedsburg posted on his Facebook page that he was going to shoot up an elementary school.
Reedsburg Police investigated and found that Berndt had no access to weapons and determined his threat was not credible, but were upset they could only charge him with a misdemeanor for disorderly conduct. Berndt’s threat caused a number of parents to keep their children home from school, causing a major disruption for the district.
I just don’t think that someone should be charged with a felony for making a baseless threat. Felony crimes are those that severely damage the life, limb, or property of another person. They are serious crimes for which the punishment has long-term implications in terms of the assailant’s rights (gun ownership, voting, etc.) and livelihood. It is not a light thing to be convicted of a felony.
In the case cited, while it is extremely disruptive, the resulting harm was relatively minor. Some folks were inconvenienced. A misdemeanor charge is appropriate. As long as the DA fully prosecutes the offender and the judge levies as hard of a punishment as the charge allows, it should be sufficient to discourage people from making fake threats.