Communicating Threats

One of the popular phrases that doesn’t actually hold true is “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words cannot hurt me.” As we’ve come to know, words are powerful and may put you in more trouble than you bargained for. Now, the right to free speech is guaranteed by the constitution, no doubt. But as with most rights, it is not absolute. There are certain legal limits that have been placed on the right to free speech. One of the limitations can be seen in the laws of slander and libel. Another limitation is the one found in what is now known as the crime of communicating threats.

The crime of communicating threats may otherwise be called terrorist threat or malicious harassment in some cases. In general terms, the crime of communicating threats is committed when someone threatens to kill or physically harm someone else or their property.

Communicating threats is taken very seriously in North Carolina – even more than the crime of simple assault! It is no longer shocking news that North Carolina dishes out a sterner punishment to persons convicted of communicating threats than to persons convicted of simple assault. Communicating threats is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but Simple Assault is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

As you may have already begun to realize, the crime of communicating threats has a lot of nuances. Where does mere jest stop and ‘threatening’ actually begin?

If you get charged with the crime of communicating threats in Rowan County, you need the services of a defense attorney that is experienced. If you are in Salisbury or other parts of North Carolina, you should get in touch with Stowe Law Firm if you need excellent legal representation.

The Law of Communicating Threats

One of the frequently asked questions on Communicating Threats include “what if I’m just kidding?” Well, the crime of communicating threats understands these situations and does not include them as ‘threatening’.

According to the North Carolina statute § 14-277.1, a person can be charged with communicating threats if:

  • They willfully threaten to physically injure the person or that person’s child, sibling, spouse, or dependent or willfully threaten to damage the property of another,
  • The threat is communicated to the other person by any means (orally, writing, etc.)
  • A reasonable person believes that the threat is likely to be carried out,
  • The person threatened believes the threat.

It is evident from the statute that even though a broad area of instances are covered, an exaggeration or a joke will however not be considered as a crime of communicating threats.

When the crime of communicating threats meets domestic violence

A large number of crimes of communicating threats come hand in hand with domestic violence cases. A large line must however be drawn between the two offenses. To begin with, not all ‘threatening’ statements will be considered as threats. If you tell your spouse you’re going to leave them if they don’t get a job, is not the type of threat as compared to when you tell them if they don’t get a job, you’ll punch them.

It is however worthy of noting that communicating threats may be marked as domestic violence if you and the victim have a personal relationship. As such, the charge of communicating threats in this context will likely also require domestic violence intervention. For example, in North Carolina most domestic violence criminal convictions requiring batters intervention treatment.

Penalties for communicating threats

Upon being convicted of the crime of communicating, there are a number of penalties at the disposal of the court. North Carolina however treats it as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Still, a person convicted of the crime of communicating threats may still end up getting incarcerated or fined.

The possible court penalties include:

  • Incarceration. If an accused is convicted of making a criminal threat, they may face a substantial amount of time in jail. In North Carolina, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 120 days incarceration in county jail.
  • Fines. The fine to be ordered also depends on the gravity of each particular case. In North Carolina, a misdemeanor for the crime of communicating threats may earn the accused a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Probation. In lieu of incarceration, the court may also sentence someone convicted of communicating threats to probation. The court will specify the duration of the probation, but it may be as high as 24 months.

During the probation, all conditions given must be adhered to. Some of these conditions may include not being charged with any other crime, maintaining employment, or not leaving North Carolina. If you end up with a probation violation your sentence may be activated.

Other Possible Consequences

It has already been established that the crime of communicating threats and domestic violence often go hand in hand. As such, with a conviction, a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO) or other form of Restraining Order under the North Carolina Domestic Violence Laws, or other civil or protective laws may be issued against you. If a valid DVPO has been issued against you a charge of communicating threats will lead to a DVPO Violation.

Importantly also, this type of conviction may also affect your chances in other civil litigations like divorce, child custody, visitation rights, and so on.

Common defenses to the charge of communicating threats

If you or someone you know gets charged with the crime of communicating threats, you can put up a great defense with a skilled and experienced defense lawyer.

The most obvious defense is that “it was all a joke” or that the alleged threat was too ambiguous to be considered threatening. For instance, if the alleged threat is that “someone ought to beat you up”, it may be considered too ambiguous and not threatening.

For a statement to be considered as part of communicating threats, the person to whom it is made must ‘think’ that the threat would be carried out. This takes us to another defense.

You may have another defense if the person to whom the alleged threat is made doesn’t take the words seriously or replies with words to show they are in fact not afraid or in fear of you. This will establish that they didn’t have an imminent fear of danger.

An impossible or impracticable threat will also be deemed to be excusable. You may be able to avoid conviction if you can establish that the alleged threat was in fact too impractical to carry out as at the time it was issued.

You deserved a skilled defense lawyer

The charge of communicating threats can not only be associated with domestic violence. There is an exhaustive list of the other areas it can cause you more problems.

The threats that the crime of communicating threats pose to you is innumerable. You should take the charge seriously by hiring an experienced defense attorney.

Call Stowe Law Firm at 704-856-99502 or consult us here today and let us use our resources to defend you.

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Ryan Stowe is the principal attorney at Stowe Law Firm, PLLC. Mr. Stowe is proud to be practicing in his hometown of Salisbury, NC, and is a first generation Rowan County attorney. Mr. Stowe takes pride in being a criminal defense attorney. He focuse…

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