Teenager in jail since March for sarcastic Internet comment faces 8 years in prison
A teenager from Texas could spend the next eight years in prison if a court decides that the sarcastic comment he made during an online argument is enough to convict him of issuing a terroristic threat.
Justin Carter was only 18 years old when he and a friend got into an online spat over Facebook back in February with another person. They were arguing about the computer game “League of Legends,” his dad told a local ABC affiliate, but one snarky remark made by the teen was apparently enough to raise suspicion in one woman who was watching the conversation unfold all the way up in Canada.
“Someone had said something to the effect of 'Oh you're insane, you're crazy, you're messed up in the head,’” father Jack Carter told KKVUE News, “to which he replied 'Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head, I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts.’”
According to the parent, the teenager from Texas followed up that remark with the phrases “LOL” and “JK”— Internet shorthand for “Laugh out Loud” and “Just Kidding.” The Canadian witness wasn’t amused, however, and reportedly conducted a cursory Google search to find out more about the sarcastic gamer. That information led her to learn that the Carter household is located close to a local elementary school, prompting her to alert the police.
Carter, who has since turned 19, was arrested in late March and has so far spent three months and one day behind bars. His trial is slated to begin in July, and if convicted of “making a terroristic threat” he could spend most of his twenties in federal prison.
Under Texas law, a person could be charged with a misdemeanor if
he or she “threatens to commit any offense involving violence
to any person or property” with the intent to prompt a
reaction, cause fear in another or interrupt the occupation of a
public place. If the defendant is thought to have made a threat
to cause impairment or interruption of a public service, it’s a
felony in the Lone Star State.
“These people are serious. They really want my son to go away to jail for a sarcastic comment that he made," Jack Carter told KVUE.
It’s likely that the timing of the teenager’s quip — only two months after the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting left 26 people dead in Connecticut — didn’t discourage authorities from launching an investigation. His father said his son didn’t mean anything of it, though, and was just being behaving like an average teenager.
“Justin was the kind of kid who didn't read the newspaper. He didn't watch television. He wasn't aware of current events. These kids, they don't realize what they're doing. They don't understand the implications. They don't understand public space,” said Jack Carter.
“If I can just help one person to understand that social media is not a playground, that when you go out there into social media, when you use Facebook, when you use Twitter, when you go out there and make comments on news articles, and the things you are saying can and will be used against you," he said.
Carter’s trial is expected to begin July 1 in Texas. Earlier this month, a grand jury in Massachusetts declined to indict an 18-year-old aspiring rapper who was accused of making terrorist threats after posting prose on his Facebook page that referenced the Boston Marathon bombing. Cameron B. D’Ambrosio was detained for one month in jail and stood to serve as much as two decades if convicted.