America prides itself on offering free speech to everyone, a right that is protected under the first amendment. However, while all individuals are entitled to express their opinions, not all acts of speech are legal or without consequences.
Communicating violent threats is a crime across many states, including North Carolina. In this state, communication of violent threats is considered to be a class 1 misdemeanor, which may result in significant fines or even jail time. Before you land in hot water over a threat, there’s more you should know.
The three key elements of communicating threats
There are three elements that must be present for someone to be charged with communicating threats. First of all, there must be a threat to physically injure another person. Secondly, the alleged perpetrator must communicate this threat to the victim. Finally, the person who is being threatened must reasonably believe that the threat will lead to action.
What about online threats?
Often, people are under the impression that their online behavior carries no consequences in the offline realm. However, this is not the case. Making threats to another person online is taken very seriously in North Carolina. In fact, if threats are made to a person in another state, this can even be treated as a federal offense.
What about empty threats?
In North Carolina, it is never acceptable to threaten someone with violence, whether that threat is communicated online or offline, or not intended to be carried out. As long as the victim reasonably believed the threat would be followed through, the legal consequences can be serious. A true “empty threat” would be one that the victim in no way considers feasible.
For example, if an elderly neighbor threatens to “punch your lights out” from behind their fence across the street from your home, that’s not a particularly credible threat — and it might not be a crime. However, if you make the same threat while standing toe-to-toe with your other neighbor, it could be a crime (even if you never intended to carry out the threat).
Understanding aspects of the criminal law in North Carolina could be in your best interests. If you find yourself facing criminal charges, it is important to remember that you have legal rights.