There has been quite a bit of talk in law enforcement circles and the media about some members of the Heene family facing criminal charges. However, the specific charges have not been spelled out. So what are the so-called crimes they are going to be charged with? No one seems to know at the time of this writing. It may be helpful to know when a hoax is no longer a hoax.
Some people think anyone “pulling the wool over the public’s eyes” should be prosecuted. Others think that it is always a first amendment issue and therefore, not prosecutable. The rational truth requires a bit more thought than the usual knee jerk response.
In the case of a true hoax, there should never be a prosecution. If the public or the authorities are stupid enough to fall for it, that’s their problem. They need to be able to deal with the embarrassment without seeking revenge for their being morons. All the hoaxer did was to create something ridiculous and then wait for the intellectually challenged and the credulous to fall for it.
Usually it is funny as hell and, in the end, some of the suckers actually learn from it. A few examples of things in this category are “Bigfoot” footprints, crop circles, UFOs, images of the divine in food, sea monsters and the ever amusing supernatural phenomena and hauntings. Presented by the hoaxer as “Gee, look what I found” silliness, anyone who reacts to it has a choice not to. But they chose to react. If they waste public resources while pursuing it, be grateful you found out that they were idiots before they really did something bad. And I for one, am quite grateful for the resulting entertainment and the reaffirmation of the depths of human stupidity (though sometimes the stupidity thing leaves one wondering whether to laugh or cry since, allegedly, we are members of the same species).
It is easy to recognize the difference between a true hoax and a crime. The crime requires the perpetrator to directly lie to authorities about something they have no choice about investigating or pursuing. Not only is that dangerous and wasteful, it is also poor sportsmanship and terribly bad form. For a hoax to be a true hoax, the hoaxed have to be given the choice to react or not react without the undue influence of a pending death or a significant injury. This crime has several names including filing a false police report and malicious mischief. In most jurisdictions the criminal can get up to a year in jail, an order to pay restitution and civil penalties for the actual and punitive damages.
Obviously, if someone is killed or hurt due to the pseudo-hoax, the perpetrator can be sent to prison for a very long time. The laws are already in place to do this. If the prosecutors are too incompetent to figure out how to use them, get rid of the prosecutors, don’t make more laws. It’s an old trick of embarrassed public officials to divert attention from their personal stupidity by showing the public they are on a noble mission to “never let this happen again”.
If anyone in the Heene family can be shown to have lied to authorities, then they have committed a crime and should be punished. It is as simple as that. And, in situations like this, where the authorities responded appropriately to a life or limb situation, they should be supported by the public.
One final note, I have been given critical information by one of the government officials, who must remain anonymous since he, with his very pale skin, red hair, red beard and pink eyes, is not authorized to speak to the media. He indicated that there is very good evidence that children who are given bird names can, in fact, fly due to quantum mechanics allowing one to make his/her own reality. Therefore, it is very likely that the child did, in fact, fly away with the balloon and then, once out of sight, climbed out of the basket and flew down to his house where he hid in the rafters. The official went on to say that this is not the first time that bird children have flown around doing mischief. He believes that, in the near future, there will be a law passed that prohibits children from flying, putting an end to this dangerous practice. He further noted that if it saves just one life, the government’s struggle to pass this law will have been worth it.