In your interaction with others, you may have been provoked to the extent of issuing out threats to their person, but is it a criminal offense to threaten someone? and can you go to jail for threatening someone?
In this article, we discuss the position of the law on threatening someone, what constitutes a threat, and some related topics. Continue reading to know more.
Can you go to jail for threatening someone?
The simple answer is YES, depending on the nature of the threat, the victim and the specific state or federal laws, you can go to jail for a period of up to 5 years for threatening someone.
Criminal threats are threats to cause harm or death to a person that puts the person in fear for their life. Many states have laws that criminalize several forms of threats.
The charges for a criminal threat can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of the threat and whether or not an officer is at the receiving end of that criminal threat.
A criminal threat to cause harm or death must be specific and credible. That is to say, the criminal threat must be directed at a named or identified person or place (for Bomb threats) and must reasonably cause the person to be in real fear for their safety. The person making the threat must also be capable of carrying out the threat.
For example, if a person threatens to annihilate the world over candy, any reasonable person will conclude that it’s bare threat. But if a person enters a jewelry shop with a knife and threatens to stab everyone in there, that is a credible and specific threat.
In the case of threats to places or institutions, it is an aggravating factor if by virtue of your threat, the bulding is evacuated.
Elements of a criminal threat
As aforementioned, while you can go to jail for threatening someone, the threat has to qualify under the definition of the law to constitute a criminal threat. The following are the elements of a criminal threat:
1. Communication of the threat
The offender must communicate the threat of harm through any of the several forms such as verbally, written, electronic or by use of a 3rd person. The reason is that you must know about the threat before you can reasonably be in fear of imminent danger or harm.
2. Intent to threat
Feeling threatened by the words or behavior of someone doesn’t necessarily constitute criminal threat unless they intended their words or conduct to be a threat to you. For example, feeling threatened by a person wielding a machete in an alley would not constitute a criminal threat if indeed the person was just going his way.
On the other hand, if the person told you they would harm you with the machete, that would be a criminal threat because the offender was specific and capable of carrying out the threat.
3. specific and real threat
A criminal threat must be directed at someone, or a specific place and the defendant must have the capacity to carry out the threat.
When all these elements are present, a criminal threat can be said to be present, and the law can then take its course against the defendant.
Threats against a police officer
Threats against an officer of the peace, sometimes also known as menacing a police officer is a felony offence. In New York, the NY Penal Law § 120.18 makes the offence a class D felony that has a minimum mandatory prison sentence of 2 years if found guilty. However, one can be sentenced up to 7 years in prison for menacing a police officer if convicted.
Menacing a police officer involves intentionally placing or attempting to place a police officer performing his legal duty, in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm or death by the display of a weapon when the offender knew or reasonably should have known the person was a police officer. It does not matter whether the weapon was loaded or not at the time.
Penalties for criminally threatening someone
Penalties for criminal threats vary from state to state and at the federal level.
1. Can you go to jail for threatening someone in California?
In California, criminal threat is a wobbler offense, meaning that depending on the facts and severity, a prosecutor can charge defendant with a misdemeanor or a Felony.
A misdemeanor offense carries up to one year in jail and up to $1000 in fines or both upon conviction. A felony criminal threat will also count as strike on your record under the California 3 strike rule.
2. Can you go to jail for threatening someone in Ohio?
Yes, you can go to jail for threatening someone and causing them to reasonably be in fear of death or bodily harm. In Ohio, Ohio Code §§ 2903.21, .22. classifies criminal threats to any person as a first-degree misdemeanor.
It further states that: “If the victim of the offense is an officer or employee of a public children services agency or a private child placing agency and the offense relates to the officer’s or employee’s performance or anticipated performance of official responsibilities or duties, aggravated menacing is a felony of the fifth degree or, if the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to an offense of violence, the victim of that prior offense was an officer or employee of a public children services agency or private child placing agency, and that prior offense related to the officer’s or employee’s performance or anticipated performance of official responsibilities or duties, a felony of the fourth degree.”
You can go to jail for threatening someone for up to six months if you’re found guilty of first-degree misdemeanor in Ohio. A fourth-degree misdemeanor in Ohio carries a prison term of up to 18 months and fines of up to $5000.
3. Can you go to jail for threatening someone in Virgina?
Depending on the nature of the threat and the facts, a criminally threatening someone with death or bodily harm in Virginia is classified as a class 6 felony. Class 6 Felony in Virginia carries a penalty of between one and five years in prison and fines of up to $2500.
Federal penalties for threatening someone
If the criminal threat is carried out through an interstate medium such as email, social media, phone calls or mail, federal charges apply.
Can you threaten to sue law enforcement in Florida?
Yes, threatening to sue law enforcement is in no way illegal under Florida law. The right to sue for an alleged wrong is enshrined in law and threatening to exercise your right will not constitute an illegality.
However, for a lawyer, the ethics code of the Florida Bar advises lawyers to desist from threatening criminal prosecution solely to gain advantage in a civil matter or for purposes of harassment. This of course is an admonition and not binding.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How long can you go to jail for threatening someone’s life?
If you’re convicted of criminally threatening someone’s life, you can be jailed for up to 5 years depending on whether the victim is an ordinary person or a public officer in line of duty.
Can you go to jail for threatening someone over text?
Yes, criminally threatening someone and causing them to be reasonably fearful for their life or harm to their body through a text is a federal crime which can see you do up to 5 years in prison.
In addressing the question Can you go to jail for threatening someone? we have come to know that criminal threats are punishable by jail time and fines both at the federal and state level.
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