A simple rude comment is not illegal. People have their freedom of speech rights even if we disagree with that speech or it hurts our feelings. However, there are certain types of communication that cross the line. The state of North Carolina recognizes that certain forms of threatening behavior must be addressed in the law, and that is why a law exists that expressly prohibits certain forms of communication.
Breaking Down the Communicating Threats Law
The communicating threats statute of the law deems this crime to be classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor and defines the crime as:
- A person willfully threatening to physically injure the person or that person’s child, sibling, spouse, or dependent or willfully threatens to damage the property of another
- The threat is communicated to the other person, orally, in writing, or by any other means
- The threat is made in a manner and under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to believe that the threat is likely to be carried out
- The person threatened believes that the threat will be carried out
All of these things must be true at the same time for the accused individual to be found guilty of this Class 1 misdemeanor. It is a crime that can be extremely difficult to prove as so much of the definition appears to be a matter of interpretation. However, someone who stands accused of this crime still needs to seek adequate legal counsel to protect themselves from these charges.
Can a Threat Be Made via the Internet or a Phone?
Although many communicating threat statutes were written before the advent of the internet and smartphones, the law still applies to those technologies as well. Many states are working rapidly to plug any gaps between the statutes on the books and the technologies that many of us use today.
When someone sends a threatening message via a smartphone or the internet, it can safely be assumed that the threat is still legitimate if it meets all of the criteria described in the previous section. However, it is important to understand that not every threat made on a public forum on the internet will necessarily result in someone being charged with a crime.
Many people hide behind anonymity on the internet, so the pursuit of suspects would be endlessly complicated if every threat made on the internet was pursued as a violation of the law. Thus, those who actually are pursued for this crime are often those who are the most serious offenders of the law. The people who are persistent in their threats and who have a close personal relationship with the victim are generally the most likely to face any consequences at all.
Why Are Communicated Threats so Dangerous?
Some people hear about an individual communicating threats to another and think that it cannot possibly be all that serious. Some even feel that this is a victimless crime and that anyone who feels that they are being threatened via the internet or their phone can simply shut out those who are making them uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this type of thinking is wildly inaccurate.
David Matusiewicz, his sister Amy Gonzalez, and his mother Lenore Matusiewicz were all charged with and convicted of cyberstalking Matusiewicz’s ex-wife following their divorce. The Justice Department describes their sentencing like this:
“Following a five-week jury trial this past summer, the defendants were convicted of conspiracy, interstate stalking resulting in death and cyberstalking resulting in death. This was the first case in the nation where defendants were convicted of cyberstalking resulting in death.”
The three had terrorized and stalked Matusiewicz’s ex-wife for years and made up allegations later deemed to be false against her. After a lengthy series of stalking behaviors, there was a shooting incident that resulted in the death of Matusiewicz’s ex-wife.
Those who say that stalking and communicating threats cannot lead to tragic outcomes need only to look at this story as proof that they are wrong. This may be an extreme case, but it illustrates the point that there are real victims of communicated threats.
You Need a Lawyer to Fight These Charges
Just because someone believes that you are communicating threats to them does not mean that it is the truth. There are plenty of situations in which misconceptions can get in the way of reality, and it is entirely possible that you simply need a qualified and talented attorney to stand up for you and your free speech rights. You need to put up the strongest defense possible if you are accused of communicating threats.
Think about the reputational damage that you may suffer at the mere accusation of communicating threats. There are people who have lost jobs and their status in their local community simply because someone else made an accusation. That is not fair, and it points to the need for legal representation to get this whole thing sorted out.
A lawyer will help you:
- Review all of the facts of your case
- Gather evidence showing that you are not guilty of communicating threats
- Help you navigate through the complex legal process
- Be your strongest advocate even when others do not want to stand up and do the right thing
A lawyer will stand by your side and help you feel secure that your case is being handled the best it can be.
Reach Out to a North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney
You will feel much more comfortable working with a criminal defense attorney to get this all sorted out than you would feel if you had to wade through it all on your own. If you are currently facing the pressure of communicating threats charges, reach out to us at King Law. We would like to get you set up with one of our attorneys who can walk you through your next steps and answer any legal questions you may have.
You can reach us at (888) 748-5464 (KING) or fill out our contact form for assistance today.