Swatting — Dangerous New Trend, More Than Just a Prank

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A phone call comes into the local 9-1-1 dispatch center. The dispatcher hears a chilling voice on the other end of the phone: “I have killed a family member and might kill others.” The dispatcher gathers the phone number and address from where the call is coming, and then quickly summons help. Law enforcement and special tactics “SWAT” teams descend on the house in a quiet neighborhood from where the phone call originated. They plan their entry into the house, expecting a violent encounter with an armed madman. But when they enter the house, they encounter a frightened and terrified family with no idea of what is going on. This family – and law enforcement – have been victims of “swatting.”

Definition and Dangers of “Swatting”

“Swatting” is a relatively recent hoax that is carried out through technological advances that help the “swatting” culprit fool law enforcement personnel. The hoax begins with a call placed to a 9-1-1 dispatch center. The culprit convincingly tells the dispatcher that a violent crime has occurred at a certain address, usually threatening more violence. Through the use of technology, the culprit is able to mask the true number and location from which he or she is calling; instead, the dispatcher’s computer systems show the number, address, and other information belonging to the hoax victims. With this information, law enforcement and SWAT teams descend on the unsuspecting victims. The victims of the hoax (as well as law enforcement personnel) are terrified and surprised to learn that the whole incident is the result of a ruse carried out by someone else.

Swatting can occur to anyone; in fact, an early incident of swatting was carried out by a teenager against a girl he met online who refused to have phone sex with him. However, several celebrities have been the victims of “swatting” as well, including Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Selena Gomez, Rihanna, and Chris Brown, just to name a few.

Swatting’s primary purposes appear to be to terrify, harass, and molest the hoax victims, who must deal not only with the stress of armed police officers forcibly entering their home but then try to explain that the whole incident is due to a deception. But swatting can be extremely dangerous for victims and law enforcement alike: not knowing what sort of situation they are responding to, victims can be hurt or killed if they make a sudden movement or attempt to resist police. Police may be hurt if victims attempt to repel or resist the police’s entry into their home. And, of course, there can be significant financial costs to the community when such a large police force is called out.

What If I Am the Victim of “Swatting?”

If you are the victim of a swatting prank, it may provide some measure of comfort to know that law enforcement technology is quickly evolving so as to enable police to track and arrest swatters so they can be prosecuted. But suppose that you are the victim of a swatting hoax and, believing there to be an armed criminal inside your house, police enter your house and see drugs or other illegal items. Based on this, you find yourself charged with a crime such as possession of marijuana or possessing an unregistered firearm.

Individuals in Illinois may find themselves in just this sort of situation because of what is known as the “exigent circumstances” exception to the Fourth Amendment. In most cases, the law requires the police obtain a search warrant from a judge before they can enter and search a home. But where “exigent circumstances” exist, the law allows police to enter a home without notice and without permission from the homeowner. One such exigent circumstance is where police reasonably believe there to be an immediate threat to someone’s life. Once police are inside your house, if they see illegal contraband in plain view (or, if you are not home, they discover contraband while clearing your house), such evidence may be able to be used against you.

Contact the Ivec Law Firm

When you are charged with a crime based on a police search of your house – whether the result of a swatting hoax or not – it is imperative that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights. The law affords citizens the right to privacy in their homes, and the police must follow the law carefully if they want to search your home without your permission. Contact criminal defense attorney JohnPaul Ivec and the Ivec Law Firm, P.C. today at (815) 439-9909 for a free consultation; or e-mail at jp@iveclaw.com.


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