Here's The Ridiculous Texas Law That Allows Law Enforcement To Pretend A Digital Clock Is A Hoax Bomb
from the everything's-bigger-in-Texas,-including-overbroad-wording dept
There may be some method behind the zero tolerance, racially-tinged madness of the Irving, Texas, police department. The department perp-walked fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed out of school and into its welcoming arms for the crime of not building a bomb. It was a clock, but because it had wires and a circuit board and was contained in a metal case and was on school grounds and Ahmed Mohamed's name is Ahmed Mohamed, the police decided that if it wasn't a bomb, it was the next best thing: a "bomb hoax."
So, after handcuffing him "for his safety" (ACTUAL QUOTE) and holding the non-bomb "as evidence" of a crime that wasn't committed, the department has dropped all charges. It isn't very repentant, however, despite everyone else -- including the President of the United States -- expressing support for the student. It still claims everything about the horrendous debacle was by the book. And, sadly enough, it probably was.
Mark W. Bennett, a Houston (TX) criminal-defense lawyer, pointed out that the state's "hoax bomb" statute is not just the regular kind of Texas-sized overbroad, but perhaps unconstitutionally overbroad. In a series of tweets, he broke down just how insanely stupid the law is.
1/ A hoax bomb includes a device that by its design causes reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency.— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) September 16, 2015
2/ Possessing a hoax bomb with intent to use it to cause reaction by an official of a public safety agency is a crime.— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) September 16, 2015
3/ A telephone is designed to call other telephones, making them ring, causing a reaction.— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) September 16, 2015
4/ So possessing a telephone with the intent to call the cops is a violation of Texas’s “hoax bomb” statute.— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) September 16, 2015
5/ Lesson: statute titles don’t mean anything.— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) September 16, 2015
1/ A hoax bomb includes a device that by its design causes reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency.Here's the actual language of the statute, which shows Bennett wasn't exaggerating.
2/ Possessing a hoax bomb with intent to use it to cause reaction by an official of a public safety agency is a crime.
3/ A telephone is designed to call other telephones, making them ring, causing a reaction.
4/ So possessing a telephone with the intent to call the cops is a violation of Texas’s “hoax bomb” statute.
5/ Lesson: statute titles don’t mean anything.
Sec. 46.08. HOAX BOMBS.Well, Mohamed didn't pretend the clock was a bomb. Far from it. But that doesn't matter because of subsection (2), which takes away anything involving intent and puts it all in the fearful minds of nearly any government official. "Alarm or reaction of ANY type." How does one avoid causing an alarm or reaction in others, especially others that seem particularly easily alarmed? It's impossible.
(a) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly manufactures, sells, purchases, transports, or possesses a hoax bomb with intent to use the hoax bomb to:
(1) make another believe that the hoax bomb is an explosive or incendiary device; or
(2) cause alarm or reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies.
Mohamed's science teacher wasn't alarmed, but he did remark that maybe Ahmed shouldn't show this project to anyone else. Mohamed didn't plan to, but the clock started beeping during another class and shortly thereafter, his English teacher started panicking. (But in the controlled sort of panic where a person demands someone hand over a bomb -- something no rational person would do if they actually thought the device in question was a bomb.)
Now, if we're going to play along with this statute's wordings, a whole lot of everyday items suddenly become much more "dangerous." Road flares, cell phones, batteries, a box full of wires, a vibrator, a doorbell, a power inverter… basically anything someone might feel could explode or could trigger an explosion would fall under the enormous shadow this statute casts.
But if we're going to play along with the police and the stupid law they used to defend their actions, we have to ask why several school officials -- including the English teacher who reported Mohamed to them -- weren't arrested as well. After all, they very likely knew they didn't have an actual "explosive or incendiary device" in their hands, and yet they approached the police department with claims that they did. This very definitely provoked a reaction and, at that point, the device was in the possession of school personnel. That's subsection (2).
By claiming a bomb was on the school's premises (when they likely knew it wasn't a bomb -- see also: no evacuation of the school, no warning sent to parents, etc.), they also violated subsection (1) of the statute:
make another believe that the hoax bomb is an explosive or incendiary devicePerp walking a few school officials out of the building and into squad cars would certainly teach them not to waste valuable law enforcement resources with stupid, fearful bullshit. But these actions would only be taken by a police department not so inclined to waste its own time investigating bombs that aren't bombs and arresting students who aren't criminals. And, as can clearly be seen, the Irving PD does not meet these standards.