Terroristic Threats Defense Attorney
Terroristic Threats in Pennsylvania
Any threat to commit an act of violence against another person with the intent to terrorize is considered a terroristic threat. As a speech-based crime, terroristic threats can be subjective, therefore difficult to determine whether the speech amounted to a criminal offense. It is important to note that speech alone cannot be considered a crime or it would be subject to constitutional challenge, therefore terroristic threats have an intended result element. This element is the intent to terrorize, harm, intimidate or disrupt a government function. In order for words to amount to a terroristic threat, there must be proof that the words were, in fact, threatening, which is usually evaluated from the alleged victim’s point of view.
In other words, if a person tells his neighbor “I’m going to kill you if you park in my space again,” the words, on face value, appear threatening. The problem with this is context. Perhaps the person was smiling when he said those words, and they were not meant to be a threat—the person was joking, even though the choice of words was unfortunate. In order to separate “playful” threats from truly disturbing threats, there must be a component of the threat which requires the intent of the threat to be for a specific, illegal purpose. While no actual injury is required to convict a person of terroristic threats, there must have been at least some level of fear associated with the threat.
Reasonable Proof Required of a Communicated Threat
So, to rise to the level of a terroristic threat in the state of Pennsylvania, under 18 Pennsylvania C.S.A. §2706, reasonable proof is required that you communicated a threat (either indirectly or directly) to:
- Cause the evacuation of a building
- Cause the evacuation of an assembly
- Cause the evacuation of a facility of public transportation
- Cause a serious public inconvenience
- Cause terror with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror
- Cause serious public inconvenience with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such inconvenience
- Commit a crime of violence with the intention of terrorizing another human being
Generally speaking, the courts in the state of Pennsylvania recognize that a spur-of-the-moment communication may not rise to the level of a terroristic threat if it is not made with the intention of terrorizing another person. In the case of Commonwealth v. Anneski, two neighbors were in a heated argument—one threatened to run over the other’s children, causing the other to threaten to get a gun and use it. While the woman who threatened to get a gun was originally convicted of terroristic threats, on appeal the Pennsylvania Superior Court held the threat was made during a “heated, hysterical” argument, with no intent to terrorize. The court reversed the conviction.
Penalties Associated with Terroristic Threats
In most cases, charges of terroristic threats in the state of Pennsylvania are for a first-degree misdemeanor, however if the threat caused occupants of a building, facility of public transportation or place of assembly to be “diverted from their normal or customary operations,” the crime of terroristic threats can be charged as a third-degree felony. A first-degree misdemeanor conviction can result in a prison sentence of up to five years, and a minimum fine of $1,500, with a maximum fine of $10,000. A third-degree felony conviction can result in up to seven years in prison, a minimum fine of $2,500, and a maximum fine of $15,000. If convicted, you could also be ordered to pay restitution in an amount equal to the cost of any evacuation, including fire and police response, EMS response, and the transport of an individual from the building, facility or place of assembly.
The Difference Between Terroristic Threats and Recklessly Endangering Another Person
While the crime of terroristic threats and the crime of Recklessly Endangering Another Person (REAP) both involve communication, each crime focuses on different situations. REAP is a second-degree misdemeanor which occurs when a person recklessly engages in conduct which places another person in fear of death or serious bodily injury. This crime focuses on the act of the accused, as well as the reactions of the victim. In other words, if the alleged victim showed no sign of fear or apprehension during the incident, then the elements of the crime of REAP have not been met. A show of force, or communication of force is an element of Terroristic Threats, and, unlike REAP, terroristic crime threats focus exclusively on the actions of the accused.
Defenses to Charges of Terroristic Threats in Pennsylvania
While your exact defense will depend on the specific circumstances of your crime, your Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney could possibly use one of the following defenses on your behalf:
- Proving there was no intent
- Prior congenial history with the alleged victim
- Statement made in fun or frustration
- Statement made in the heat of the moment (transient anger defense)
- Threat was not communicated directly to the victim
- Threat was conditional or predicated on the occurrence of a future event
Points to Remember About Terroristic Threats in Pennsylvania
It is important to know that a terroristic threat does not necessarily have to be made in person—it can be made via phone or through an electronic method, such as email, text, or even posting the threat on social media. Further, even if you do not physically have the ability to carry out a violent act you have threatened, it is your intent which matters under the law. This means that even if you have such severe arthritis that you could not possibly grip a baseball bat, yet you threatened to beat another person senseless with a bat, you can still be charged with making a terroristic threat.
Getting the Help You Need
Making a terroristic threat to another person is extremely serious in the state of Pennsylvania. Since you could potentially spend years behind bars if convicted of Terroristic Threats, having an experienced attorney from the Ciccarelli Law Offices by your side from start to finish is crucial. Our attorneys have a thorough understanding of the charges, as well as the potential defenses. We will make every effort to discredit evidence which is not in your favor and will explore alternative sentencing options when a plea of “guilty” could be in your best interests. If provocation, alcohol consumption or a medical condition is involved, we will work hard on your behalf to help you avoid jail in exchange for a promise to receive counseling. At Ciccarelli Law Offices, success is our mission—we are driven to serve and ready to fight. Contact Ciccarelli Law Offices at (610)-692-8700.