Charged With Making Criminal Threats? This Is What You Need To Know (And Do).
Don't confuse free speech with the right to say anything that you want - or you may end up suffering criminal consequences! Your freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution, but when you say something threatening, your speech can land you in jail. This is what you should know.
Criminal Threats Take Various Forms
Threatening someone else with bodily harm is a criminal action. You can be guilty of making a criminal threat if you:
- make it verbally to someone
- email the threat
- text it to someone's phone
- post the threat on a social media site
In some jurisdictions, it isn't even necessary to make a threat with words. A non-verbal body gesture (like using your fingers to imitate a gun that you "fire" at someone's head) can amount to a criminal threat.
Other Factors Are Also Used To Determine If A Threat Is Criminal
Criminal threats have to be made with the intention of making someone afraid. The "intention" of your words is usually determined by the specific facts of the situation. Threats also have to be both specific and reasonable in order to be considered criminal.
For example, if you tell your best friend over a beer that you "could just kill" your ex-spouse, the threat isn't particularly specific. It probably couldn't even be considered reasonable, since most people would recognize it as a figure of speech.
However, as one man found out, telling his ex-wife to fold up her civil protective order and see if it was "thick enough to stop a bullet" was not protected as free speech, although he's still appealing his conviction. In his case, he made numerous statements indicating violent intentions toward his ex-wife and others, including a female FBI agent who came to his house during the investigation.
What To Do If You Are Accused Of Making A Criminal Threat
If you let your temper get the better of you and said things that were foolish, you may now find yourself facing charges for criminal threats. Make no mistake: these are serious charges and are punishable by probation, fines, or even jail time, so proceed carefully.
- Stop talking. Don't make any further statements about the situation, or the other person to anyone, except to your attorney. You don't want to give the prosecution any further ammunition and compound your problems.
- Obey any restrictions placed on your behavior by the court, especially if an order of protection was issued.
- Be open and honest with your attorney about what happened. Depending on the circumstances, your attorney may be able to present any of several defenses, including:
- Your threat didn't include actual bodily harm.
- Your threat wasn't such that any reasonable person would actually have been afraid.
- Your threat lacked immediacy. For example, you said something like, "Someday, I'm going to kill that cheating louse!" The threat lacked the immediacy necessary to create real fear that you were about to act.
- The threat was ambiguous, and wasn't specific about what violence was going to be done, to whom, or when.
- The fear allegedly produced by the threat wasn't reasonable (for example, you threatened to blow someone up with a bazooka).
- The threat was not intentionally communicated. For example, you may have muttered the threat to yourself when you thought you were alone, and didn't realize that someone came into the room behind you and overheard you speaking.
Everyone can lose their temper in a moment of frustration and say something that they shouldn't. However, you don't have to let a momentary mistake ruin your life. A good criminal defense attorney, like Jeffrey D. Larson, Attorney at Law, can help you recover from the situation and avoid more serious problems.