When Can A Threat Be A Crime In Florida?
Sometimes a person’s bark is louder than their bite, and they will say things they don’t mean – including comments that get viewed as a threat. However, written and verbal statements that are threatening in nature can lead to criminal charges in Florida. This can be true whether or not the person making the alleged threat planned to take any action.
The charges a person can face under Florida law depend on whether the threat was written or verbal, as different Florida statutes pertain to each crime.
Florida’s Law on Written Threats
If a person composes a message in which they threaten to harm or kill someone (or a member of their family), and that message is published or sent in a way that the other person can see it, they may face criminal liability.
Florida Statutes, Sec. 836.10 provides that is illegal for anyone to “send, post, or transmit… in any manner in which it may be viewed by another person” any threat to:
- Kill or do bodily harm to another person; or
- Conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism
The statutory language makes clear that written threats can include “any combination of text, graphics, video, audio, or pictorial represented in digital form”. In other words, this includes any type of message that can be conveyed through social media, text message, or other digital apps.
To prove that a written threat was target toward an individual, the prosecution must show:
- The defendant wrote or composed a letter, electronic communication, or inscribed communication;
- This communication contained a threat to kill or inflict bodily injury on the victim or victim’s family;
- The defendant sent or facilitated the sending of that letter or communication to the victim.
In terms of whether and how a message was “sent”, prosecutors do not need to prove that the alleged perpetrator directly sent the message to the alleged victim. Even a post on the perpetrator’s own Facebook or other social media page can be considered a threat, if the target of the comment was able to see it.
For threats to commit mass shootings or terrorist acts, the elements are essentially the same, only with proof that the messages contained threats to commit these specific acts. It does not matter whether the person posting the comment planned to carry out the attack or if it was done as a cruel joke – the mere act of posting it for others to see is sufficient to bring criminal charges.
Publishing a written threat in Florida is considered a second degree felony, with penalties of up to 15 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Defenses to a charge of making written threats can include:
- That the defendant was not in fact the sender of the message in question;
- That the message did not contain a threat to harm or kill (for example, the defendant was simply using a figure of speech or slang instead of actually threatening violence);
- That the message was sent accidentally or unintentionally;
- That the message contained Constitutionally protected free speech under the First Amendment.
Florida’s Law on Verbal Threats
Certain verbal threats can be charged under Florida’s Assault law, which makes it a crime to intentionally “by word or act” threaten to commit violence upon another person. Additionally, there must be some apparent ability to carry out the threatened act, and a well-founded fear in the victim that the threat is actually imminent.
Unlike with written threats, there must be some level of intent shown by the defendant to carry out an assault, coupled with a realistic probability that it could happen. A frightening comment made in jest does not necessarily meet the threshold for an assault charge in Florida.
However, assault is a serious charge that one can face after making harmful and threatening comments to another person. This is a second degree misdemeanor punishable by jail time and fines in Florida.
The Orlando Criminal Defense Attorneys at Joshi Law Firm, PA Can Help If You Have Been Charged with Making Written or Verbal Threats
For good reason, law enforcement and prosecutors take any kind of threat very seriously, and taking action can save lives. However, sometimes a person will say something they don’t mean, or have their words misinterpreted as a threat. If you have been charged with making any type of written or verbal threat, you will need skilled legal assistance to guide toward a fair resolution of your case. Our Orlando criminal defense lawyers at Joshi Law Firm can meet with you to go over the facts and discuss your legal options.