Personal threats are relatively common legal issues that very often are handled between the primary parties without intervention from the state. But, sometimes a threat victim will have sufficient cause to contact the police if they fear a real potential that the threatening party can and will follow through on the intended action.
This alone can be the basis for a Massachusetts criminal threat, as the filing of criminal charges do not always require a subject to inflict harm on another individual before charges can be filed. Of course, just like other criminal acts, a charge for threatening to commit a crime in Massachusetts must also be proven by the Commonwealth in several distinct areas in order to win a conviction.
But you can’t just claim that you have been verbally threatened by another individual. Usually, there is a need for a communication record or reliable testimony from another person who personally witnessed or has sufficient knowledge of the event.
Elements of a Charge of Threatening to Commit a Crime
It is not necessary for a criminal threat to rise to the level of being terroristic in Massachusetts, but there are still four primary criteria that the state must prove in the prosecution.
- The prosecuting attorney must prove that the defendant demonstrated reasonable intent to actually follow through with the threat.
- They must also prove that the threat was intended to be communicated to a particular victim.
- The next step is proof that the intended act would have actually been criminal had it been carried out against the directed party.
- The final step is the most important, as the state must prove that there was a reasonable level of animosity between the parties to instigate the act had it occurred.
The problem with proving these is that the claims are usually primarily supported by testimony, and many times there is little actual documentation that the altercation or threat occurred. When this is the case, having an experienced criminal defense attorney can be invaluable for the defendant because cross-examination can impact the final outcome in court.
Westborough District Court
Dismissed after a year
Stoughton District Court
Dismissed after a year
Dedham District Court
Dismissed after 2 months
Penalties for a Massachusetts Criminal Threat
The penalties for committing a criminal threat in Massachusetts are a $100 maximum fine or up to six months in jail, or both. Probation or a potential deferred judgment could also be the result when the case is a typical first offense.
But, the issue with criminal threats is that they almost always have additional charges included when the threat may have also involved other illegal activity, such as assault and battery. Material case factors can matter greatly, and many times an arresting officer will “stack” charges for each piece of potential evidence as an indication to the prosecutor that the case is serious.
Each charge could carry an associated fine or jail term, and penalties can mount up quickly. Many times, when multiple charges are included, a criminal defense attorney can be successful in having threat charges dropped when a conviction on other charges provide appropriate punishment.
Criminal Citation to a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing for Threats
If you are only accused of a criminal threatening charge, it is usually first heard before a Clerk Magistrate at a hearing. The police typically don’t have enough evidence to arrest you.
Our law firm successfully defends more clients at Clerk Magistrate’s hearings than any in the state. Attorney Russell Matson wrote the book on these types of hearings, so we can help you try to solve this legal problem without any criminal charges being issued.
I win these hearings quite regularly and would be happy to discuss the times I’ve gotten a threatening charge dropped at a clerk’s hearing, even when the facts are pretty damning.
Threatening Violation of Someone’s Constitutional Rights
It is a crime to threaten to violate someone’s constitutional rights. Those rights can be any Constitutionally-protected act – free speech is the most common.
A violation of this offense is punishable by up to a year in jail or a $1000 fine. If someone is injured in the incident, the maximum penalty is up to 10 years in prison.
Ref: MGL Ch 265 Sec 37
Vagueness of the Statute
The Massachusetts criminal threat law has drawn some attention at the federal court level and influenced the court decision to establish a precedent with respect to “fighting words” or “true threats” when threatening charges are applied at the state level. It is not unlawful to confront anyone concerning a dispute and mere communication is not always a threat. Many states make the distinction by including “terroristic” in the terminology to establish a need for serious intent to harm an individual or their property.
Property is also an issue with the law, as many people threaten a victim’s property, such as a home or a vehicle when issuing a criminal threat. This also could result in civil litigation when real damage is done and connected with the threat. But, when there is little physical evidence and mere personal testimony is used to prosecute the case, an experienced criminal defense attorney can cast reasonable doubt on the charges in many instances.
It is always important to consult with an attorney anytime when being charged with threatening to commit a crime in Massachusetts. A criminal conviction for practically anything can have a major impact on the future of the accused, even affecting the ability to acquire and maintain gainful employment.
In certain cases, the threatening charges can be eliminated as part of a plea bargain for charge reduction or dismissed completely when an attorney can cast reasonable doubt in defending the charge.
If your threats are elevated to the level of threatening to do something harmful or costly to someone if they don’t comply, you could be charged with extortion.
We had a case like this where the defendant threatened a woman via Instagram to send embarrassment photos of a woman to her friends if she didn’t send him new nude photos. This is also known as “sextortion”.
Though this is a serious felony charge, it can be heard in a Clerk Magistrate’s hearing, and sometimes dismissed with no criminal charge being filed.