Criminal Law

Is Making a Threat Illegal? When Do Words Cross the Line?

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but can they land you in jail? Some threats are empty, and others are made only in jest. But if a threat causes its recipient to become genuinely fearful, the person making the threat may be found guilty of a crime, which is why you should speak with a criminal defense attorney right away.

In many states, making a threat can be illegal if certain conditions are met.  The statement is made in any manner or in any context that causes the individual hearing or receiving the threat to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of another individual.

The Five Elements of a Criminal Threat

Under the law, making threats can be considered an aggravating factor in a criminal case if specified elements are present.

To be deemed a credible threat, it needs to satisfy certain criteria:

  • The defendant threatened to unlawfully kill or cause great bodily harm to another person.
  • The threat was made orally, in writing, or by using electronic communication such as emails or text messages.
  • The defendant wanted the statement to be perceived as a threat or wanted to instill fear in the person.
  • The threat caused the person to fear for their safety or the safety of their loved ones.
  • The person’s fear was reasonable in the circumstances.

However, a credible threat is not a standalone crime, meaning that to threaten someone doesn’t mean you’ve broken the law.

But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

A threat attached to a behavior that causes a reasonable person to feel threatened by immediate harm can be considered a criminal act.

Let’s say, you were charged with misdemeanor stalking. If you were also deemed to have made a credible threat, your charges can be bumped up to a felony aggravated stalking case.

Cyberbullying is a Criminal Offense 

In the age of near-constant Internet access, social media websites allow just about anyone to express themselves on a public platform. Unsurprisingly, the Internet has become another medium to send and receive threats.

“Cyberbullying” is defined as posting a message or statement in a public media forum with the intention of placing a person in fear of bodily harm or death. The message must have been posted with the intent to communicate a threat or with the knowledge that it would be viewed as a threat.

Free Speech vs. Making a Criminal Threat

The First Amendment protects our constitutional right to freedom of speech. As Americans, we are free to express our opinions and practice our faith. However, there are many forms of speech that are not protected by the Constitution. This includes defamatory statements, certain obscenities, and true threats.

But what is a “true” threat? A true threat is one that is intended to be taken seriously. It’s another name for a “credible” or “criminal” threat.

Penalties for Terroristic Threats in 

A terroristic threat has been loosely defined as the threat of an act that serves to intimidate a civilian population or has the influence or effect of doing the same to a government body. A conviction can lead to twenty years imprisonment. A false report of a bomb—while often resulting in charges for threats of terrorism—is a separate felony punishable by up to four years in prison.

What to Do If You’ve Been Arrested for Making a Threat 

The most important thing to remember during an arrest is your Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate yourself. Do not speak to the police without first speaking to a criminal defense lawyer. Cooperate with the police and remain silent as much as is practicable.

As soon as possible, reach out to a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can ensure your rights are protected and mitigate the possible consequences of your arrest. Time is of the essence after an arrest. Talk to a lawyer today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *