While the U.S. constitution gives freedom of speech, those rights have limitations. The law does not allow anyone to make another person uncomfortable while practicing their freedom of expression. Threatening and instilling fear in a person in Seattle is considered a criminal threat.

Whether the threat was communicated verbally or through a text message, a telephone call, or email, you can be arrested. But if you contact a Washington State criminal justice attorney early enough, your rights as the accused will be safeguarded throughout the process.

With a good defense, you can easily challenge the accusations. If your utterances incriminate you directly, a lawyer can still negotiate for you to get a more lenient punishment. Getting the best outcome for each case is the goal. 

How are Criminal Threats Categorized in Seattle?

If someone is charged with criminal threats, it is important that they understand the exact form. A criminal lawyer can formulate the appropriate defense if he/she is aware of the nature of the accusation.

The categories include:

  • Threatening to damage a person’s property, or injure them, or kidnap them
  • Threatening to cause a person bodily injury

Is a Criminal Threat a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

A criminal threat can either be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on its magnitude. Generally, threatening to cause bodily injury to another person can be charged as a misdemeanor. A threat to kidnap, injure, or damage someone’s property is usually charged as a felony in Washington.

Felonies are more punitive than misdemeanors, but it doesn’t mean that one needs legal representation more than the other. A skilled criminal threats attorney can help you secure your freedom and avoid parting with a lot of money in fines.

What Does the Prosecution Need to Show Wrongdoing?

While the punishment for these crimes is hefty, it is not that easy for the prosecution to prove that you are guilty, without a doubt. And with a good defense, it will be even harder for the government to lock you up.

For misdemeanors, they have to prove that:

  • The words were addressed to another person
  • A random listener would believe that bodily harm would actually take place
  • The accused person intended to threaten the complainant 

For felonies, the prosecution may have to prove that:

  • The defendant uttered the words addressing another person
  • The threats sounded serious enough to make a random person believe that their property would be damaged, body injured, or they’d be kidnapped
  • The words were meant to be a threat

How Can I Defend Myself Against a Criminal Threat Charge?

While the prosecution works hard to pronounce you guilty of the offense, you also need to strive to defend yourself against the charges. A criminal threats lawyer in Seattle can help find weaknesses in the case and challenge it skillfully. Below are common defenses against criminal threats.

Ambiguous Threat

A criminal threat has to be specific, immediate, unconditional, and unequivocal. It should not be poetic, have hidden meanings, or require interpretation. The threat has to be as clear as, “You fired me. I’m coming for your kids.”

Conditional Threats

If a threat is conditioned, lacks immediacy, or is vague, it will probably not instill reasonable fear in the person. For example, an ex-boyfriend being charged for threatening to kidnap a lady’s kids if she gets married to someone else. The ex-boyfriend cannot be convicted for criminal threats because the lady is not married and has no kids.

Unreasonable Fear

Unrealistic threats like someone saying that they will unleash superpowers or launch a nuclear bomb attack on a person is not a criminal offense. Reasonable fear is where the offender threatens to burn down a house and is actually seen at a store buying materials related to such an attack.

The Victim Did Not Feel Fear

Fear is an essential element of a criminal threat, and the person ought to have felt fear as a result of the threat. If the complainant responded to the threat with words like, “I’m not scared of you,” they probably weren’t affected. Remember that even threatening someone over social media is still a crime.

What’s the Punishment for a Criminal Threat Conviction?

If you are pronounced guilty of the crime, the magnitude of your punishment will depend on whether the charge was a felony or a misdemeanor. You risk paying up to $5,000 in fines and serving a jail term of up to 364 days if you are convicted for threatening to cause bodily injuries.

More serious threats like instilling fear of kidnapping, property destruction, or injuries attract a fine of up to $10,000, and convicts can remain in prison for up to 20 years. But it doesn’t have to come to that when you work with the right Seattle criminal defense attorney. 

Is There Alternative Sentencing for a Criminal Threat Conviction?

If you have no history of threatening people, you can receive minimum sentencing. Sometimes you can convince the court to let you be on probation under conditions that you:

  • Find treatment if you have an alcohol or drugs use problem
  • Enroll in anger management classes
  • Do not commit the same crime during that period

What Can Aggravate the Criminal Threat Charge?

The court can increase the minimum required jail sentence if you previously threatened someone in your past or current domestic relationship. And if you get out on bail, you may be required to surrender any firearms you own and adhere to a No Contact Order.

Understand the Law through a Professional Legal Aid

Criminal threat cases often arise from misunderstandings, and the accused don’t always have to pay with their freedoms. The right attorney can convince the judge that the alleged threat does not meet a criminal threat threshold in Washington. Sometimes, the lawyer can fight for the case to be dropped before it gets to trial.

If criminal threat charges have been leveled against you, you need to work closely with a criminal defense lawyer. Experience and skill are necessary to win a criminal threats case carefully crafted by the prosecution and backed by the complainant. Contact a lawyer to get started.