Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers for Terroristic Threats Charges
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The Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorneys of Goldstein Mehta LLC have extensive experience defending against terroristic threats charges. Terroristic threats is a common criminal charge in Pennsylvania which is often brought when an argument escalates into a fight or threats. It can apply in the terrorism context in that it applies when someone makes a threat which causes the evacuation of a building or causes some other serious public inconvenience, but it generally does not actually involve any real threat of terrorism.
Instead, in Pennsylvania, terroristic threats is usually charged when the defendant is alleged to have threatened the complainant with some act of violence. For example, when two people are arguing, and one of them threatens to shoot or kill the other person, that threat could result in charges even though it does not have anything to do with terrorism in the usual sense of the word.
Defenses to Terroristic Threats Charges
Terroristic threats has many defenses, and it can often be a difficult charge for the Commonwealth to prove beyond a reasonable doubt outside of the terrorism context because it frequently does not apply to things said in anger during an argument. When it is charged against someone who allegedly threatened another individual with violence, the statute requires both that the person communicate a threat to commit a crime of violence and that the person acted with the intent to terrorize. In other words, the defendant not only had to make a threat, but the defendant also had to really mean it. This second part is what the Commonwealth often has trouble proving beyond a reasonable doubt.
The first element is often relatively simple for the Commonwealth to prove; the complainant will typically testify that the defendant made some kind of threat of physical harm. For example, "I'm going to shoot you," or "I'll be back with my friends." Likewise, the complainant could allege that the defendant pointed a weapon at him or her. If this testimony is believed by the judge or jury, then the Commonwealth would have proven the first element of the charge.
The second element, that the defendant acted with the intent to terrorize, is much more difficult to prove. This is because the Commonwealth has to show that there was the actual, real intent to terrorize. If the defendant simply said something threatening during a fight or argument out of transitory or momentary anger, then the defendant did not necessarily commit the crime. In Commonwealth v. Anneski, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the statute does not criminalize making a threat during a moment of anger; instead, it requires a true attempt to terrorize the complainant. For example, pointing a gun at someone and threatening to shoot them is conduct that could be properly charged as terroristic threats, but getting angry and threatening to beat someone up may not always be enough to sustain a conviction because of the intent element of the crime. Pennsylvania law recognizes that people say things that they do not mean in the heat of the moment, and therefore the statute does not provides strict liability just for saying something threatening. We can often use this fact to your advantage.
In addition to challenging the sufficiency of the Commonwealth’s evidence, we may also be able to show through cross-examination that the complainant is not telling the truth. For example, if there are inconsistencies in the complainant’s testimony and statements to police, or the complainant has some reason to want to see the defendant put in jail, then we may be able to convince a judge or jury that the complainant has fabricated the story. Alternatively, we may be able to show that the threat was conditional and therefore not really a threat. For example, if the defendant is alleged to have said, “if you do that, then I will hurt you,” then that statement may not qualify under the statute because it may not be a true threat.
Gradation of Terroristic Threats Charges
Terroristic threats is usually a misdemeanor of the first degree. Misdemeanors of the first degree are punishable by up to five years of incarceration and a $10,000 fine. The charge becomes more serious in the terrorism context. For example, it can be a felony of the third degree when the defendant’s words or actions cause the evacuation of a building or diversion of public transportation. When it is a felony of the third degree, it can be punished by up to seven years of incarceration and a $15,000 fine. There is no mandatory minimum for a conviction on this charge in Pennsylvania.
Consequences of a Terroristic Threats Conviction
Terroristic threats is a serious charge both because it is always at least a misdemeanor of the first degree and because of the name of the charge. Even if the defendant receives probation, having a conviction for a charge that sounds like it involves terrorism is likely to create significant problems in passing background checks when the defendant seeks employment or certifications in the future. There are also other potential collateral consequences. For example, if the conviction is part of a crime of domestic violence, it could prevent the defendant from ever legally owning a gun under state and federal law. Therefore, it is critical that anyone charged with a crime retain an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. There are often defenses to these charges which we can use to your benefit.
Our Criminal Lawyers Can Help
The Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC have handled many of these cases. We know the caselaw, the defenses, and how to defend terroristic threats charges as well as other misdemeanor charges in the Philadelphia Municipal Court or surrounding counties. If you are under investigation or facing any kind of criminal charges, call 267-225-2545 for a complimentary 15-minute criminal defense strategy session.
§ 2706. Terroristic threats.
(a) Offense defined.--A person commits the crime of terroristic threats if the person communicates, either directly
or indirectly, a threat to:
(1) commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another;
(2) cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation; or
(3) otherwise cause serious public inconvenience, or cause terror or serious public inconvenience with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience.