Communicating Threats

While our country values free speech, there are limits to what you can say without running afoul of the law. In North Carolina, if you threaten someone, you might face a charge of “communicating threats.” 

What Is the Crime “Communicating Threats”?

Under N.C.G.S. § 14-277.1, a person can be charged with communicating threats if each of the following four elements is met:

  1. He willfully threatens to injure a person, a person’s child, sibling, spouse, or dependent, or a person’s property; 
  2. The threat is communicated to the other person (which can be oral, in writing, or any other way); 
  3. The threat would cause a reasonable person to believe it is likely to be carried out; and 
  4. The threatened person believes the threat will be carried out. 

The statute is quite broad and can be applied to many situations, including verbal comments, written comments over the internet, and more. The following are examples that would likely be considered communicating threats: 

  • Sending a text message that says: “I’m going to burn your house down for what you did to me.” 
  • Yelling at someone at a bar, saying: “I’m going to break your legs.”
  • Emailing someone: “The next time I see your daughter, I’m going to punch that little brat in the face.” 
  • Sending an Instagram or Facebook direct message, saying: “Your family is going to suffer for what you did to me.” 

Your intent behind your message does not matter. Even if you think your words are a joke or that you would never act on them, if a reasonable person believes the threat is likely to be carried out, you could find yourself facing charges for communicating threats. 

What Is the Penalty for Communicating Threats?

Communicating threats is a Class 1 misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to 120 days in jail and a possible fine. Just one mistake with your words can put your liberty at stake. If you have been charged with communicating threats, reach out to an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney to learn more.