We previously discussed the case of Paul Chambers who was arrested for a tweet joking about blowing up an airport after his flight was canceled in England. Now a New Jersey man, Bill Miller, is in a similar situation after he joked to a friend in a text message that his catamaran had capsized. His friend notified the authorities and he is now charged with felony charge of causing a false public alarm — a charge that comes with a potential five year jail sentence.
First, let us be clear. Miller clearly has a juvenile sense of humor. He decided it was really funny to send a friend a message reading “I am flipped over in the middle of the bay…I don’t know what to do??”
Since there is no recognizable humor or wit in such a message, the friend assumed it to be true and called the authorities who proceeded to conduct a full search in the midst of poor weather along the coast, including dangerous lightning with trees and power lines down.
Miller insists that it was obvious he was not in any real danger since he obviously had time to text and had a working phone. That is not very convincing. His friend did the right thing since this could have been the only message that he was able to get out.
The more plausible defense is that a private text is not a basis for a public alarm since he never sent the message for authorities. This crime usually addressed false calls to the police or public acts — not private jokes.
I have great reservations over the use of a criminal charge in such a circumstance — part of the increasing criminalization of our society. One obvious approach would be to take away his boating license or permit and bar him from obtaining another one. He clearly does not have the maturity or sense to operate a water vehicle. Another approach could be to hit Miller with a bill for the rescue in a civil action. I generally do not support the imposition of such costs on hikers and others who trigger rescues in national parks or public areas. However, it seems like this may be a circumstance where such a bill is warranted.
What I do not believe is that the world’s dumbest joke should be the basis for the world’s dumbest charge.
14 thoughts on “World’s Dumbest Joke Leads To World’s Dumbest Charge”
I’m sorry that you didn’t get the jobI’m sorry to have bothered you.What’s new? She is poor but quite respectable.Does she like ice-cream? What we read influences our thinking.What we read influences our thinking.Yes£¬I suppose So.His looks are always funny.Tom and Mary congratulated us on the birth of our daughter.
Why didn’t they just call him?
I was riding in the right seat in an Aerostar (riding, not co-piloting). Takeoff minimums. Into the soup and there were vibrations. Pilot finally isolated the problem to the right engine (which kept running in spite of the broken cam shaft) and shut down. He contacted the tower, identified the problem, requested immediate landing. Tower offered the downwind runway, pilot accepted, the ILS was reversed. Single engine landing not a big deal, but the hydraulic pump is on the right. Gear down, oops. A choice to recycle the gear or hope it was a light out. Beautiful landing on the numbers until the nose finally came down, all the way down. A fire truck came out because the nose scraping the runway caused smoke and sparks. There was a bill from the FBO for moving the a/c off the runway and storing it. Lots of good words from the tower for the professionalism of the pilot; thanks from the pilot to the tower for their immediate professional responses. My pov, it’s awesome to see a well-trained team in action in a situation like that.
ARE, I learned from my old flight instructor to be sure to tell the tower you do NOT want equipment unless you are on fire. Once lost the rear engine of a Cessna 337 on takeoff and asked the tower to put the binoculars on me to see if I was trailing fire or smoke, since I could not see the rear engine. Tower guy said that was negative and asked me if I wanted equipment. Told him to watch me and only wanted equipment if he spotted flames or smoke. He kept asking if I wanted equipment and every time I told him the same thing. As it turned out, the vacuum pump had broken off at the flange and the crankcase had a big hole in it where the pump used to be. Fortunately, none of the oil got on the exhaust pipe.
Never declared an emergency, but told the tower I wanted to land right away. He was a nice guy and I knew him well. He just waved off all other traffic and told me I was cleared to land any runway. He told me later to please never scare him like that again.
The flight school should have sent the bill to the controller.
Take away his tweeter, fast; the guy is dangerous!
David, thanks for Alice’s Restaurant. Loved it then, love it now.
Talk about ‘failure to communicate’. I get smart-ass text from friends frequently. I respond with a simple “seriously?” or “are you kidding?” if I am concerned that what I am reading just might be the real deal. Also, I know my friends so… if one in particular (talkin’ ’bout you Ralphie!) sent me a message like the one in question, my response would have been: “yeah, whatever… let me know when u get ur boat 2 float.” I submit that the onus is on the receiver in this case.
I don’t see jail as appropriate. The rescue team could present him with a bill, as what happened to ARs flight school and they could use mediation to arrive at a settlement, which might include his catamaran : ) Lesson learned.
As the article pointed out, there was no attempt by the rescue team to verify the message. The need to modify their procedures to do so in the future while the team gets ready to go into action.
Oh my, am I really getting this old ?
Re Mr. Spindell’s comment: of course as soon as he adds “And creating a nuisance” they will all have a great time on the Group W bench.
I had a situation where I was doing multi-engine training in a Cougar at HOU. Part of the training is to shut down one engine and do manuvers and emergency training. Unfortunately I could not restart the dead engine, so I simply flew back to HOU on one engine, No problem or emergency. The tower saw me on short final and saw that one engine was shut down and rolled the equipment. I did not ask for it, nor was it any emergency, yet the flight school got a bill for $300 because of the time and expense. We learned to find an uncontrolled field with no witnesses to land and restart the engine before coming back to Hobby.
I think a similar bill would be more appropriate for this kid, which of course will be a LOT more than what we had to pay.
Picture this man sentenced to jail and entering his cell. His tough looking new cellmate looks at him and says “What’re in for?”. His voice quavers as he responds to this man serving time for felonious assault and he answers: “Texting”. What is wrong with this picture?
I agree that it might be appropriate to bill him for the rescue efforts however, it is the friend who actually over reacted.
I think the Civil action. Venue would make more sense…..
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