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Is Use of Certain Emojis Enough to Warrant an Arrest?

A twelve-year-old girl in Fairfax, VA is facing charges in juvenile court after posting a series of emojis in an Instagram post that implied a threat to her school. Emojis, the small pictures used to punctuate texts and social media posts, are a hallmark of smartphone communication. And, like many aspects of digital communication, they are a source of confusion in the courts.

The arrest comes at a time when there is a nationwide trend emerging in using social media as evidence. In cases such as this one, law enforcement is increasingly examining if the use of certain emojis, such as a gun, a knife and a bomb, in the context with other text and images are enough to incriminate individuals of making threats or even harass or defame others.

Middle school student arrested for Instagram post

In the case of the Fairfax girl, a school officer tracked her down as the one who had posted the small pictures: of a bomb, a knife, and a gun. The accompanying text included the ambiguous "meet me in the library Tuesday," and the more menacing, "killing."

Though the threat was not deemed credible, the girl was charged in juvenile court for harassment and threats to the school. Juvenile records are closed, which means the verdict is not known. The girl's mother commented, however, that her daughter acted in response to bullying at school.

New Yorker comes before grand jury for Facebook post

In a similar case in New York, 17 year-old Osiris Aristy posted a gun emoji and a police officer emoji along with a post that implied violence. He came before a grand jury on terrorism charges. In that case, the jury chose not to indict.

In this and other matters related to the modern media landscape, the law is evolving as the courts decide each particular case. Even if your case in unprecedented, you still have the right to a criminal defense attorney who can assure that your rights are protected.


Jouvenal, J. (2016, February 27). A 12-year-old girl is facing criminal charges for using emoji. She's not alone. Retrieved March 14, 2016, from

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