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Is That Legal – Itsy Bitsy Spider Prank

Spider by vtsr from Flickr

Today, my friend Heather posted a link to the video of Sketch Empire’s Itsy Bitsy Spider Prank on Improv AZ’s Facebook wall. I laughed so hard. It was a great way to start the day.

It looks like this prank took place in a mall. One prankster on an upper floor would lower a big spider on a string down in front of an unsuspecting person below and another prankster would film them freaking out. It’s simple, but funny when you get over-the-top reactions.

One unsuspecting mall patron didn’t think it was funny. After being scared by the spider, he immediately spotted the cameraman across the way and demanded that he delete the footage of him.  He threatened to call the police to make the pranksters delete it.

Is it Illegal to Scare People with Giant Fake Spiders?
I think it’s unlikely that someone would be arrested or cited for a simple practical joke, especially one that lasts only a matter of seconds. When the motive is to be funny, not malicious, I have trouble finding criminal fault.

I could see a situation, however, where someone gets scared by the spider and falls backwards in fright and breaks their wrist when they fall. In that situation, the pranksters are the direct cause of the fall and should be financially liable for the person’s injuries.

Could it Ever be a Crime?
Yes. The law generally criminalizes offensive touching of another person or putting a person in fear of offensive touching. If the pranksters touch someone with the spider or put a reasonable person in fear of being touched by the spider, they could be charged with assault and/or battery depending on the applicable state law.

Did the Guy’s Argument that the Pranksters Invaded his Personal Space have Merit?
Probably not. In general, a person does not have an expectation of privacy in their whereabouts in public. Our movements are videotaped all the time by security cameras. A person with a smartphone or flip is just one of many cameras on us any time we’re in public.

If the mall had a policy against videotaping on the premises, the patron might have had a legitimate expectation of privacy while he was there, but I don’t know of any mall that doesn’t have security cameras.

You do have a privacy right related to the commercialization of your image. If the pranksters are making money off that video, the guy might have an argument that the video interfered with that right, but still couldn’t prohibit the shooting of the video itself.

Could the Pranksters get in Trouble with the Mall?
It depends. Malls are private property and the mall cops have the responsibility to keep the peace. If they caught the pranksters scaring people with a giant spider, they would have the authority to tell them stop.

Some malls have rules that prohibit patrons from taking pictures or shooting videos inside the mall. If that’s the rule at this mall, the pranksters could be told to stop filming or told to leave.

I think the Itsy Bitsy Spider Prank is hilarious and pretty harmless. I think their biggest issue will be not getting caught by the mall cops if they continue to do it. Improv AZ learned the hard way that even when you think you’re taking all the proper precautions and are willing to leave upon request, the mall cops can still freak out and call the real cops, which isn’t fun at the time but makes for great YouTube footage.

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Is That Legal – Improv AZ Coroner Prank #2

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  I am a law student.  In accordance with ABA policy, this blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and stuff I looked up on the internet.

Last week the Improv AZ crew decided to revise their world –famous coroner prank, only this time instead of having four people in “coroner” shirts carry a stuffed body bag on the light rail, we took it for a walk through Chandler mall.

We were hoping to raise a lot of eyebrows and get a lot of double takes and surprised stares of disbelief.  We succeeded in that, but we also spent just enough time in the building to get the attention of mall security.  Not wanting to cause any trouble, we offered to leave.  They refused our offer and called Chandler Police instead.  A mall cop claimed we committed “a dozen felonies.”  The real cop said we could have been charged with disorderly conduct.  In the end, they let us go with a warning and the mall cops banned us from Chandler mall for three months.

Of course as the group’s CLS, I did my usual research before doing this prank, and after our run in with the law, I rechecked everything.

What can mall cops really do?

Mall cops are citizens and can only make citizen arrests.  If they are an agent of the property owner, they can ask people to leave and call law enforcement to arrest them for trespassing if the patrons don’t comply.

Did we commit trespassing?

I don’t think so.  Shopping malls open themselves up for members of the public to enter and shop.  We are, in legalese, “invitees.”  If we had been asked to leave by a property owner or their agent and then refused to go, then we would have been trespassing.

Were we illegally impersonating a government official?

The way Arizona law is written, we would have to pretend to be a public servant and engage in conduct “with the intent to induce another to submit to [our] pretended official authority or to rely upon [our] pretended official acts” to be charged with impersonation.  We did nothing to assert our authority against any mall patrons or anyone else.

A mall cop tried to tell us that our fake coroner badges made us guilty of a felony, but anyone looking closely at them would have seen that they were made with someone’s laminator at home.  Our badges had our pictures – mine was my Twitter avatar – and the words “Coroner” and “All Access Pass.”  The mall cop took our badges from us and turned them over to the Chandler police officer.  After looking at them briefly, he gave them back to us.

FYI – Arizona doesn’t have coroners.  It has medical examiners.

Did we commit disorderly conduct?

I think that’s a stretch at best.  Arizona law defines disorderly conduct as engaging in certain behavior “with the intent to disturb the peace or quiet of a neighborhood, family, or person or with the knowledge of doing so.”  The only behavior they could have tried to pin on us was “fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior.”   Our conduct could have been considered disruptive, but probably not deserving of being in the same category as violent behavior.  The other behaviors on the list for disorderly conduct didn’t seem to apply since we weren’t making noise, using offensive language, carrying weapons, or preventing business transactions from occurring.

Could the mall cops make our camera guy prove he’d erased the footage he shot with his phone?

Mall cops are just civilians so they probably don’t have that authority.  Real cops, however, can search your phone if it’s related to an arrest.  Otherwise, it looks like they’d a search warrant.

Is it illegal to walk around with a fake dead body?

I looked through Arizona statutes and didn’t find any laws against having fake dead body.  I find out about some of the things you can’t do with an actual dead body:

  • You can’t move a dead human body with the hopes of abandoning or concealing it.
  • You can’t move a dead body from its grave without authority of law.
  • You can’t steal stuff off or from a dead body.
  • You can’t have sex with a dead body.

For now the four coroners are banned from Chandler mall.  The mall cop gave each of us a card with the Chandler mall code of conduct on it.  I’d share this list with you (it’s pretty funny) but it’s too long, and surprisingly, Chandler mall doesn’t have it available on their website.

Related Articles:
Official Improv AZ Blog: When Mall Cops Swarm – The Coroner Prank #2
Video: Improv AZ – Coroner Prank 2, “Bob Goes To The Mall”