There’s an old saying that tragedy is something awful happening to you, while comedy is something awful happening to somebody else. That goes for the law, too. If pranks and “jokes” cause someone else physical harm, there’s a good chance that you may be violating the law. If odd behavior seems quirky to you, it may be offensive to others. If most people think your behavior is creepy, you may also be charged with violating a law. If you’re not charged with a crime, you may be sued in a civil lawsuit.

Most laws are based on what the local community or the state thinks is unacceptable behavior. A case in point is a recent story in Truthout about a new trend where people open up a container of ice cream in a retail store, lick the ice-cream, and then put it back into the store refrigeration unit. The prank reported in the story become public when 10 people were required to be hospitalized after eating a brand of Blue Bell ice cream that was tainted with listeria, a type of bacteria, after someone licked it. Three of the 10 people died.

Texas officials did their homework. They investigated the video footage from the Walmart store where the ice cream was purchased. All the half-gallon containers of Blue Bell Tin Roof were removed. The suspect was charged with tampering with a consumer product – which is a second-degree felony that carries a 2 to 20 year sentence. The suspect was a 17-year-old girl who had “posted a video of herself” doing the stupid prank.

Now, the girl licking the ice cream had nothing to do with the listeria outbreak: that was entirely the fault of Blue Bell, who knew about it two years earlier and kept their mouths shut because, you know, profits. But one bad idea can still lead to jail time.

So what I’m saying is, don’t lick stuff that isn’t yours, okay?

Other prank crimes that can land you in jail

There are many acts that may seem harmless or fun at the moment, that can result in the police knocking on your door to arrest you. A few examples include:

  • Spiking a drink with any type of drug (legal or illegal). Even if nobody is injured, you could be charged. Things you think may be harmless, such as changing the color of foods, may cause an allergic reaction. Spiking a drink with date rape drugs will almost certainly lead to criminal charges if someone is the victim of a date rape due to drinking the spiked beverage.
  • Prank phone calls. It may sound like fun to call up Fred UpJohn at 3:00 am, but that call could lead to harassment or disorderly conduct complaints.
  • Dumping poop on someone’s doorstep and lighting it with a match. If the fire spreads to the house or someone is hurt just opening the door, you could be charged with vandalism and other offenses.
  • Halloween pranks. Draping someone’s lawn with toilet paper could lead to a criminal complaint.

Other pranks that could be considered assault, vandalism, harassment, or disorderly conduct include:

  • Spraying someone with a water pistol – especially if the person thinks the pistol is real.
  • Fraternity pranks going to far and injuring or even killing someone in the frat house.
  • It may seem innocent enough to record a conversation with someone, but recording conversations without the consent of the person who is talking may violate the law.

At the Annapolis defense firm of Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, we’ve seen most every type of crime. We have the experience and resources to investigate what happened, to argue the facts in your favor, and to argue every available defense. We work to dismiss the charges against you. In many cases, such as prank cases, we argue for a fair plea agreement. We often argue that cases aren’t criminal cases – they’re really just civil cases. To speak with an accomplished criminal defense attorney, call Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law at 410.777.8103, or use my contact form to schedule an appointment.

And remember: Keep Calm, and Call Drew.