Threat to Commit a Crime

A conviction for threats has serious consequences, including the possibility of a jail sentence.

Elements of Threat to Commit a Crime

In order to convict a defendant of threatening to commit a crime, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant communicated his or her intention to injure the alleged victim, or the alleged victim’s property, now or sometime in the future;
  2. If the injury was carried out, it would constitute a criminal offense; and
  3. It was reasonable for the alleged victim to fear that the defendant both intended to, and had the ability to, follow through on the threat, given the circumstances under which the defendant made the threat.

It is not required that the alleged victim actually became apprehensive as a result of the threat. The issue is whether the defendant made the threat under circumstances which could reasonably have caused the alleged victim to fear that the defendant had both the intention and the ability to carry out the threat.

It is possible for the defendant to be convicted of threatening to commit a crime even if he did not personally and directly threaten the victim. The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that if a defendant makes a threat to a third party, who then passes along the threat to the intended victim, the defendant can be convicted of the threat. In that situation, however, the Commonwealth is required to prove that the defendant intended to communicate the threat to the third party who acted as the intermediary.

Common Defense Strategies

Threats cases can be defended in a variety of ways.

  • Alleged Victim’s Criminal Record - If the alleged victim has a criminal record or a history of violence, Attorney Spring will attempt to present this information to the jury. Criminal convictions are generally admissible within a certain time frame (convictions for misdemeanors within the last five years are admissible; convictions for felonies within the last 10 years are admissible). History of violence evidence (also called “prior bad act” evidence) is generally admissible to impeach the alleged victim. Attorney Spring has extensive experience litigating these types of issues.
  • Bias - In most threats cases that go to trial, there is bad blood between the defendant and the alleged victim. The alleged victim ordinarily wants to see the defendant convicted and punished. The alleged victim’s desire for revenge will be fully exposed on cross-examination.

Threats cases are emotionally charged because they often involve long-standing grievances between the parties. Whether the charges result from the end of a long romantic relationship or years’ worth of bad feelings between neighbors, the allegations are typically ugly and the alleged victims are ordinarily very invested in the case. Even if the threat is made between strangers (in a road rage case, for example), the victim is usually anxious to see the defendant punished. Therefore, most of these cases go to trial.

Attorney Spring prosecuted threats cases when he served as an assistant district attorney early in his career, and he has successfully defended clients charged with threats since founding Spring & Spring. He has the knowledge and experience to aggressively defend you if you have been charged with threatening to commit a crime.

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