HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Scary clowns have taken over social media, but a Hattiesburg attorney said people should use common sense and reason before overreacting.
"The idea that if someone wears a clown outfit that you should be scared of them or you should lash out at them, I don't think the law is going to support that kind of reaction at all," said attorney Tom Fortner. "The problem is it's not just the clown outfit. Anytime one person tries to scare or frighten another person, then there's always the risk that that person might become genuinely afraid and lash out in some form or fashion to defend themselves."
However, Fortner said it's left up to the justice system to decide if any kind of self-defense, against a clown or otherwise, is justified.
"Anytime a person feels like they're acting in self-defense, they're acting at their own risk also, and later on down the road some other group, either a judge or a jury, is going to make a decision about whether they reacted reasonably or not," he said. "So really, we're talking about common sense and reasonableness."
Fortner said there could be some legal ramifications for costume-wearers in Mississippi who intentionally try to scare others.
"I guess there could be a disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace type of misdemeanor charge that might be made or if it was the intention of the costume wearer- in this case we happen to be talking about clowns, it could be a costume of Frankenstein, who knows- but if it's the intention of the costume wearer to genuinely put someone in fear, then there is a clause in our simple assault statue that prohibits that sort of behavior," Fortner said. "It prohibits or criminalizes purposely putting someone in fear of imminent, serious bodily harm. So if that's the intent of the costume wearer, then that could be a crime in itself, but you're always going to be second guessing yourself in situations like this. There is no rule of law about it. There is no strict guidelines you can follow. I think people who see people in clown outfits ought to use common sense and good judgment, and people who decide they want to put on a clown outfit probably need to use common sense and good judgment and recognize they could be putting themselves at risk a little bit."
Fortner said especially with Halloween on the horizon, people shouldn't overreact.
"I think you just have to be reasonable about it," he said. "I'm not really sure I understand what all the excitement is about. I'd just get a good laugh out of it. I think that would probably be the best way to handle it."