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Written Threat Crimes in Florida

When you hear the term “written threat” you might think of a nastily worded letter promising some type of harm or ill-will. However, in Florida, “written threats” include any type of communication that conveys a threat to kill or injure someone or their family member. In this age of social media, assumed anonymity, and keyboard bravery, it can be easy to have a carefree attitude about what you post or message other people. But keep in mind that everything on the internet lasts forever.

Let’s say you and your partner go through a contentious break-up. Your feelings are hurt, and you want to vent your anger. It would be a heck of a lot easier to say these things from behind a computer screen, so you pull up your partner’s social media profile, hit the direct message button, and fire away, calling them names, voicing your frustration, and getting so worked up that you write “I’ll kill you!”. Now, the next day, you’ve cooled off. You look back at the message feeling a bit bad, a bit embarrassed, and a bit regretful, but it doesn’t even cross your mind to contemplate the legal implications. More time passes, and you receive a knock at your door and law enforcement starts informing you of your rights while putting you in a squad car for writing a threat to kill or injure someone. What is the crime? What are your options? Turn to an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney to support and advocate for you throughout the process.

Written Threat Crimes

Under Florida law, it is illegal to write a threat, whether on paper or online, wherein you threaten to kill or commit bodily harm to someone else, threaten to commit a mass shooting or other act of terrorism, or threaten to kill or commit bodily harm to someone’s family. This crime is classified as a second-degree felony and is punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.

The Statute – Section 836.10 of the Florida Statutes.

The crime of Written Threats is codified in Section 836.10 of the Florida Statutes. It states in pertinent part the following:

“Any person who writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of any letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication…to any person, containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent, or a threat to kill or do bodily injury to any member of the family of the person . . . commits a felony of the second degree. . .”

The statute covers more than the situation above wherein someone threatens a person or their family, and discusses written threats to discuss mass shootings or acts of terrorism:

“[A]ny person who makes, posts, or transmits a threat…to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism, in any manner that would allow another person to view the threat, commits a felony of the second degree . . .”

Cases Examining Written Threats

What If I Didn’t Mean It?

Unfortunately, even if you never intended to actually harm the victim, their family, or commit any act of terrorism or mass shooting, the State can still convict.

What if I Didn’t Send it Directly/Posted to Facebook Generally?

Even if you never sent the communication to the victim directly, or you just posted it to your personal social media page, if the victim, the victim’s family, or another threatened individual reads it, that is sufficient to form a basis for the charge.

What About my First Amendment Right to Free Speech?

Florida appellate courts have held that threats to bodily injure, kill, or commit acts of terrorism or a mass shooting are not protected forms of speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

What Does the State Need to Convict?

In Florida, there are two ways the State can go about proving the crime, depending on whether the written threat was made to someone or their family, or the written threat was regarding an act of terrorism.

Threats to a Person or Their Family

In order to prove this offense, the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The accused wrote either online, electronically, or on paper; and
  2. The communication written or composed contained a threat to kill or bodily injure someone or their family; and
  3. The accused sent or had someone else send, the communication to the person to whom the threat was against (or to whom the threat against the family was against).

Threats to Commit Terrorism or a Mass Shooting

In order to prove this offense, the prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The accused wrote either online, electronically, or on paper; and
  2. The communication contained a threat to commit an act of terrorism or a mass shooting; and
  3. The accused made that communication in such a matter that another person would view the communication as a threat.

Written Threat Penalties in Florida

In Florida, Written Threats are classified as a second-degree felony crime, punishable by up to fifteen years in prison/15 years of probation, and a fine of up to $10,000. This offense is ranked as a Level 6 offense under Florida’s Criminal Punishment Code, so even if this is a first offense, the State will generally seek a conviction, including jail time, at all costs.

What Defenses Are Available?

While the defenses for this offense will vary depending on the specific factual nature of the crime, some common defenses to the crime of Written Threats include:

  • The accused was not the sender of the written threat.
  • The written threat was not sent under the meaning of the statute and caselaw interpreting the statute.
  • The written communication does not actually contain a threat.
  • The communication was posted, or sent, by accident.
  • The written threat was actually a non-threatening saying, a figure of speech, common hyperbole, or metaphor.
  • The accused has been falsely accused.
  • The threat is not to kill, commit bodily injury, commit an act of terrorism, or a mass shooting.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

While threats can be made without much seriousness in mind, or without much contemplation, they can harbor serious consequences if the victim pursues legal action. If you or a loved one has been accused of a Written Threat crime, contact an aggressive and knowledgeable Tallahassee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to formulate a strategy. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against all types of misdemeanor and felony offenses and will ensure every defense applicable is explored in your favor. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your case during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

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