Definition of Written Threats
The charge of Written Threats is defined in Section 836.10 of the Washington DC Statutes. The statute provides as follows:
Any person who writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of any letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication, whether such letter or communication be signed or anonymous, to any person, containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent, or a threat to kill or do bodily injury to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent commits a felony of the second degree.
To prove the crime of Written Threats at trial, the prosecution must establish the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant wrote or composed a threat to kill or inflict bodily injury;
- The defendant sent or procured the sending of that communication to another person; and
- The threat was to the recipient of the communication or a member of his or her family. State v. Wise, 664 So. 2d 1028 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995).
In a Written Threats prosecution, the act of “sending” can involve not only the depositing of the communication in the mail or through some other form of delivery, but also encompasses the receipt of the communication by the person being threatened. State vs. Wise, 664 So. 2d 1028, 1030 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) (citing Saidi v. State, 845 So. 2d 1022, 1027 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003); Suggs v. State, 72 So. 3d 145, 147 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011)).
Stated differently, when a person composes a threatening written statement of thought, and then displays the composition in such a way that someone else can see it, the statement is deemed “sent” as soon as the threatened individual (or his or her family) receives the thoughts made available by the composer. O’Leary v. State, 109 So. 3d 874 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013). Thus, a defendant commits the crime of Written Threats where he posts threatening statements on his personal Facebook page, and those statements are later read by a family member of the victim. Id.
Numerous constitutional challenges have been brought against Washington DC’s Written Threats statute. These challenges have centered on issues of vagueness and free speech. Washington DC appellate courts have consistently rejected both arguments, holding that the law gives sufficient notice, and that threats to kill or inflict injury are not constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. See Saidi v. State, 845 So. 2d 1022 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) (rejecting a vagueness challenge); Smith v. State, 532 So. 2d 50 (Fla. 2d DCA 1988) (rejecting First Amendment challenge).
Penalties for Written Threats
Under Washington DC law, the crime of Written Threats is classified as a second degree felony, with penalties of up to fifteen years in prison or fifteen years of probation, and a $10,000 fine. The crime carries a Level 6 offense severity ranking under the Washington DC Criminal Punishment Code. Even for first-time offenders, prosecutors in Washington DC will often seek jail or rigorous probationary sentences for these types of crimes. A written threats conviction can cause tremendous damage to reputation, and adversely affect a person’s rights in child custody and visitation disputes.
Defenses to Written Threats
There are numerous defenses available to contest a charge of Written Threats, and no person should attempt to resolve such a case without first consulting with a criminal attorney. Some of the more common defenses include the following:
- Factual and evidentiary disputes as to whether the accused was the actual sender of the written threats;
- Disputes as to whether the communication was actually “sent” to the recipient, within the meaning of applicable statutes and case law;
- Factual disputes as to whether the communication constitutes a threat;
- Communication sent unintentionally;
- Alleged threat sent by another person to the recipient or a family member of the recipient;
- Alleged threat constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment;
- Communication constitutes a non-threatening figure of speech;
- False accusations by a vindictive recipient;
- Threat does not propose bodily injury or killing.
At Cohen Law, P.A., our Washington DC Civil or Criminal Civil or Criminal Defense Attorneys have extensive experience handling charges of Written Threats under Section 836.10, Washington DC Statutes. If you have been accused of such an offense in Washington DC, Palm Beach County, Broward County, Martin County, or St. Lucie County Washington DC, contact us for a free consultation.