Criminal threats are a serious crime in Florida, and Florida’s criminal threats laws are not always as straightforward as one may assume. Here’s what you need to know about criminal threats in Florida if you find yourself charged with such a crime in Florida courts.
In Florida, criminal threats are divided in two broad categories
Threats to kill or do bodily injury, and
Threats to kill or do bodily injury include making an oral, written, or electronically communicated threat to kill or do bodily injury to another.
Written threats involve sending a written threat to kill or do bodily harm, such as to commit a mass shooting or an act of terrorism. Included in this law are electronic communications, such as over the Internet or via text message.
The elements of a threat to kill or do bodily harm are
Intentionally or maliciously
Make a threat against someone else’s life or safety
With the intent to cause fear or harm.
Written threats in Florida are
Sending a written or electronic threat to kill or do bodily harm, or
Threaten to commit an act of terrorism or mass shooting.
For both crimes, the state must prove three main elements
That the defendant intended to make a threat and that the threat was malicious in nature
That the threat was communicated to the victim orally, in writing, or electronically. In the case of a written threat, it must have been sent or delivered knowingly, and
That the threat was intended to either cause the victim to experience fear for his or her life or safety, or to cause the victim actual harm.
For those facing a charge of criminal threat in Florida, an attorney is likely to use one of several defenses on behalf of his or her client.
Lack of intent: in order to obtain a conviction for the crime of criminal threat in Florida, the prosecution must show that the defendant intended to cause the victim to experience fear or to cause harm. If the defendant was speaking as a joke or without malicious intent, a conviction is unwarranted.
Ambiguity or vagueness: if the alleged threat made by the defendant is open to multiple interpretations or doesn’t make a clear communication of the defendant’s intent to cause fear or harm to the victim, it is likely to be too vague to support a conviction of criminal threats.
Free speech: this is not a commonly successful defense, but it may work in some instances. If the allegedly threatening speech made by the defendant is some form of speech protected by the First Amendment, a conviction of criminal threat is improper. This is a limited exception, as the Supreme Court has previously ruled that an actual threat is not protected speech.
Lack of evidence: if the defense counsel can exclude evidence proving the elements of the crime, or if he or she can cast doubt on the truthfulness of witness testimony or physical evidence, the state may ultimately lack sufficient evidence to support a conviction of criminal threats, making a conviction improper.