A Pennsylvania charge of terroristic threats, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2706, prohibits a person from communicating a threat to commit a crime of violence with the intent to terrorize another. The communication of the threat can be direct, such as a verbal threat to kill someone, or it can be indirect and nonverbal, such as pointing a gun at a person's head. In either situation, there is sufficient evidence to show that the person communicated a threat with the intent to terrorize. Communications can also be made in person, by written or electronic means, including telephone, electronic mail, Internet, facsimile, telex and similar transmissions.
Spur-of-the-Moment Statement Not Sufficient
Pennsylvania courts have recognized that some spur-of-the moment or threatening communications may not constitute terroristic threats as they are not made with the intent to terrorize another person. The classic example of a spur-of-the-moment statement stems from Commonwealth v. Anneski. In that case, a woman was told by a neighbor that the neighbor would run into the woman's children, and, in response, the woman threatened to get a gun and use it. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the woman's threat was made during a heated, possibly hysterical argument and thereby not made with the intent to terrorize, so the court reversed the woman's conviction of terroristic threats.
Ability to Carry Out Threat Not a Defense
A person's present ability to actually cause the harm threatened is not an element of the charge. A Pennsylvania court upheld the conviction of a man for terroristic threats after he threatened to "hunt down" police officers while he was handcuffed in the back of a police car and was being transported to the police station. The focus of the charge is on the communication of a threat and with the intent to terrorize, so neither the inability to carry out the threat nor a disbelief by the person threatened that the threat will be carried out is a defense to the terroristic threats charge.
Generally, a charge of terroristic threats is a first-degree misdemeanor, which means that it is punishable by up to five years' incarceration and a $10,000 fine. If the threat causes the occupants of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation to be diverted from their normal or customary operations, then the severity of the charge is increased to a felony of the third degree. A conviction of the charge would also result in the imposition of collateral consequences, such as a lifetime prohibition on the possession of a firearm under federal law.
If you or a loved one is charged with terroristic threats or any other criminal offense, contact State College defense lawyer Jason S. Dunkle at 814-954-7622 or via e-mail for a free consultation.