Bomb Threat Bill Clears House

BERLIN — A bill allowing a suspect who makes a bomb threat or threat of toxic substances to be charged in the jurisdiction where the threat was targeted breezed through the House this week by a unanimous vote.

Under current state law, an individual who makes a bomb threat or a threat involving a toxic material against a business, residence or government office or courthouse, for example, can only be charged in the jurisdiction where the threat originated and not in the jurisdiction where the threat was aimed. In an era of prolific cellular phones and other electronic devices, it is often not easily discernible from whence the threat originated and those who make bomb threats often go unpunished. However, House Bill 234 would allow prosecutors to charge individuals who make threats to be charged in the jurisdictions where the threats occur and not just from whence they originated.

“This bill simply allows law enforcement to charge individuals who make bomb threats, for whatever reason, where the threat was made or the location that the subject of the threat,” said Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), who introduced the bill.. “So, if an individual threatens a business in Worcester County, but the call comes from Anne Arundel County, law enforcement can charge that individual in Worcester County.”

In this example, if the legislation is approved, the suspect could be charged in Worcester, not only in Anne Arundel where the threat originated. At the bill’s hearing this week, McDermott testified current Maryland law prevents that type of action.

“House Bill 234 allows law enforcement to charge the individual who made the threat in either the county were the call was made or the county where the bomb was suspected to be if, for any reason, the two actions took place in different venues,” said McDermott. “In the age of cellular communications, establishing an exact location for charging purposes can be difficult to determine.”

While bomb threats and other threats are not common in Worcester and on the Lower Shore, there have been a handful of cases in recent years. In late February, a suspicious package containing an unknown white powder was delivered to the Somerset County Health Department, but it was determined not to be toxic. In September 2012, the Wal-Mart in Berlin received a bomb threat and the store was evacuated on a busy night, but bomb-sniffing dogs turned up nothing. In April 2011, Showell Elementary was evacuated after a bomb threat was called into the school, but a search of the facility revealed the threat was empty.