Can You Commit a Crime By Sending Emojis?

thinking emoji

In recent years texting has become one of the main means of communications for millions of people.

The expansion of texting apps and social media has also led to a whole new raft of cyber crimes and a headache for law enforcement.

But while it can be obvious if a text constitutes harassment or stalking, what about the smart phone faces and symbols known as “emojis” ?

Smiley faces, hands or other “emoji” have become the way millions of Internet users convey messages in texts. But one middle schooler from Virginia got in trouble with the police and was charged with a criminal offense for her use of emojis.

The Washington Post reported her text message featured emojis of a knife and a bomb and the word “killing.”

The 12-year-old from Fairfax in Virginia was charged with threatening her school by police.

A search warrant said the 12-year-old admitted to authorities she had posted the messages on Instagram under the name of another student. She was subsequently charged with threatening the school and computer harassment. However, a spokesman for Fairfax County schools told the Post the alleged threat was deemed “not credible.” It’s not clear if the criminal case has progressed. The girl’s mother said her daughter posted the emojis after she was bullied at school.

The case has renewed questions of when using emojis could constitute a crime. Recently, a grand jury in New York City was faced with deciding whether an emoji that features a gun and a police officer represented a threat to law enforcement. In Michigan a judge was called on to interpret the meaning of a face with a tongue sticking out.

Emoji became popular five years ago after Apple included an emoji keyboard on its iPhone in 2011. Now as many as 6 billion are sent a day. Their use presents a particular gray area to law enforcement and prosecutors.

Proving intent can be particularly problematic because emoji are usually sent in a light-hearted manner. Lawyers have argued over whether emoji should be presented to juries as evidence at all. The most serious problem is determining in court what a defendant actually meant by sending a particular emoji.

“You understand words in a particular way,” Dalia Topelson Ritvo, assistant director of the Cyber Law clinic at Harvard Law School, said in the Washington Post article “It’s challenging with symbols and images to unravel that.”

Telecommunications technology often moves at a faster pace than the law. If you have been charged with making threats on the Internet, you should consult an experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney.

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At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, we are experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to providing aggressive and ethical representation to individuals and businesses charged with crimes.