Pranks range from slapstick schemes to plans to scare people such as false terrorist threats. Whether the prank goes right or wrong, it may result in legal trouble for the people who initiate or actively participate in the prank.

What Is Criminal Liability?

Criminal liability is the proof needed to find a defendant guilty of a crime. To find an individual criminally liable, prosecutors need to prove:

  1. The defendant committed the criminal act
  2. The defendant possessed the intent required to commit the crime at the time of committing the crime

What Is Intent?

Intent refers to a defendant’s state of mind at the time of the commission of a crime. In other words, intent describes what the defendant wants to have happen. For example, a man decides to prank his co-worker by taking her cell phone and temporarily hiding it in a potted plant in the office.

The man would not be guilty of theft because theft requires the intent to permanently deprive the victim of their property. Since he had no intent to take the cell phone permanently, the man lacked the requisite intent to commit theft in this instance.

Can I Be Criminally Liable for a Prank?

Yes. A prank may start innocently enough when it is initially conceived, but it may result in the participants engaging in criminal activity when they actually carry out the prank. An individual could be criminally responsible for:

  • Assault
  • Destruction of property
  • Reckless endangerment
  • Disorderly conduct
  • False imprisonment
  • Criminal conspiracy
  • Stalking
  • Harassment
  • Traffic violations

What If the Crime Does Not Require Intent?

Some crimes do not require intent to commit the crime. These crimes are referred to as general intent crimes. For instance, battery is the unlawful touching of another person without their consent. This means that battery does not require the intent or desire to touch someone. It only requires the person to actually touch the victim without them agreeing to be touched. Thus, a person pranking someone could be charged for battery even though they never intended to touch the victim.

Should I Contact a Criminal Attorney?

Pranks always have the possibility of getting out of hand, and the victim of the prank may not always understand that the actions were merely intended as a harmless prank. Contact a criminal attorney if you are charged with a crime after pranking someone.