What Happens if You Threaten a Public Official or Their Family?

February 21, 2022 Criminal Defense, Violent Crimes

Threatening another person can result in extremely serious criminal charges. However, it is even more severe if you have been accused of threatening someone in the legal world. If you have been charged with a crime, the legal process that follows can be taxing and leave you feeling frustrated or angry. However, those feelings culminating into a threat against a public servant, including a judge, can result in serious legal consequences.

The Statute

Florida Statute section 836.12 covers threats to kill or do serious bodily harm to a public official or a family member of a public official. Pursuant to the statute, if a person threatens a law enforcement officer, a state attorney, an assistant state attorney, a fire fighter, a judge, or an elected official with serious bodily harm or death it is considered a misdemeanor in the first degree, punishable by up to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and a year of probation. If you or a loved one has committed this offense previously and is now convicted of a second, or subsequent offense, it is considered a third-degree felony. In Florida, a third-degree felony is generally punishable by up to 5 years in prison, 5 years of probation, and a $5,000 fine.

In order to prove the crime of threat to kill or do serious bodily harm to a public official or family member of a public official, the State must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You threatened to kill or commit an act resulting in serious bodily harm to the person receiving the threat;
  • At the time, the person receiving the threat was a law enforcement officer, state attorney, assistant state attorney, firefighter, judge, elected official, or a family member of the previously listed categories;
  • You knew the victim was a member of the previously listed categories or one of their family members.

A threat is defined as a communication, by word or act, that conveys a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual.

Case Example

In one particular case, a Florida man’s threat to a judge has now earned him 5 years in prison. The case illustrates how additional legal penalties arise when a threat is made to a public servant.

Lawrence F. Curtin, 73, went to trial back in November 2021 for an alleged threat he made to a United States Magistrate Judge.

A magistrate judge is a judicial officer of the district court who exercises jurisdiction over matters assigned by statute and those delegated by district judges. In a criminal case, magistrate judges handle pre-trial matters, such as the first appearance of a defendant, the arraignment pleas, and pre-trial release. They typically handle all petty offense cases and most misdemeanor cases.

Curtin was a self-titled actor and director who posted a single film in 1988 called “One Minute to Midnight.” According to IMDB, Curtin was both the director and only actor in the film. The film revolves around Curtin’s character—a white man—entering a Black church to worship. A three-minute clip from the movie was posted on YouTube from Curtin, where the scene shows him shaking hands with the head pastor.

Cut to 2020, when Curtin decided to file a civil lawsuit, which ended up getting dismissed by the magistrate judge. This had been the fifth lawsuit dropped by the same judge. Curtin was angry with the dismissal and wrote an objection. The dismissal’s objection was accompanied by a video link to the scene from the movie with the song called “Road to Glory.” The objection not only had a clip from the movie, but also contained personal information about the magistrate judge. Prosecutors claim that including personal information about the judge in the written objection was meant to threaten the judge, considering the judge and Curtin had never met in person before.  

The clip was found to be a threat to the U.S. magistrate judge. Although Curtin never met with the judge face to face, adding the clip from the scene implied he had done his research and was threatening bodily harm or death.

It’s been revealed that Curtin has had a pattern of threatening federal and state judges, dating all the way back to 2005.

The sentence for threatening the judge was imposed by United States District Court Judge William F. Jung. At the court date in Tampa, Florida, U.S. Attorney Juan Antonio Gonzalez of the Southern District of Florida announced the sentence for Curtin—five years in prison. In addition, the sentence includes a supervised release term of three years following incarceration.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Navigating the complex legal processes that accompany a criminal charge is an extremely stressful situation. If you or a loved one have been accused of threatening a public servant, or any crime, your first step should be contacting a skilled criminal defense attorney in your area. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all across the state of Florida and have experience defending individuals against a wide range of charges. They will explore all applicable defenses to your case and fight zealously for your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 and receive a free consultation regarding your case today.

Written by Karissa Key

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