What Is Criminal Threatening?
Most of U.S. law hinges around the idea that the Constitution protects the right to free speech, and in the strong majority of situations, a person can say what they wish without fear of reprisal. However, there are some rare situations in which mere words can be punished, especially when they communicate conduct that might be threatening in itself. Being charged with threatening in the first or second degree has become more common than it used to be, especially in situations involving bullying or domestic violence, and the consequences can be severe.
There Are Limits to Free Speech
While most people may think that speech is only punished under authoritarian regimes, the reality is that U.S. law has had what it calls time, place, and manner restrictions on free speech since the beginning - particularly when it comes to what is called ‘fighting words.’ The fighting words doctrine is an idea developed in 20th-century cases, essentially holding that any kind of speech that is an incitement to “imminent lawless action” or retaliation of any kind is not protected by the First Amendment.
Connecticut courts have also sometimes invoked what is known as the “true threat” doctrine to decide whether or not to charge someone with criminal threatening. A statement is a true threat if it is comprised of words that the speaker intentionally uses to illustrate a present or future wish to inflict bodily harm on another person. The threat must also be genuine - that is, a reasonable person must get the impression that they will soon be the victim of harm if the threat is carried out. Either of these doctrines can be applied to threatening cases, especially in domestic violence matters where there is an enhanced likelihood of threat against the alleged victim.
Do Not Risk Conviction
There are two degrees of criminal threatening in Connecticut - one a Class D felony, one a Class A misdemeanor. A charge of criminal threatening in the first degree is reserved for those who cause “significant public inconvenience,” such as threatening to commit a crime designed to derail normal life (for example, derailing a subway or causing the evacuation of a public place). Criminal threatening in the second degree is much more commonly charged, and it requires one of three criteria: (1) placing the alleged victim in “fear of imminent personal injury;” (2) threatening to commit a violent crime in order to “terrorize” a victim; or (3) making threats that are in reckless disregard of the possibility of causing terror.
While a person cannot be charged with criminal threatening if they can show their threats are not genuine, a domestic abuser’s threats are credible more often than not. If you lose your temper enough to make threats against your spouse or another family member, a threatening charge may be possible because you can plausibly carry out your threat. While the charge is usually a misdemeanor, that still means that you may face up to 1 year in jail, and fines in the thousands of dollars - to say nothing of the potential damage in your life if you have a criminal record. Do not try to go it alone.
Can a Stamford Criminal Defense Attorney Help You?
Very often, people make threats in the heat of the moment, never intending to carry them out, but it can seem that way. If you have been charged with criminal threatening or any other domestic violence-related crime, you need an experienced Stamford criminal defense attorney on your side to help you argue your side of the story. Attorney Daniel P. Weiner and the Law Offices of Daniel P. Weiner have handled this type of case before and can work with you to make sure you understand your options. Contact our office today at 203-348-5846 for a free consultation.