A Miami Gardens man was arrested recently, accused of threatening the life of State Representative Jose Felix Diaz. The threat was posted on the defendant’s Facebook page and read, “I’ll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting.”
With heightened emotions surrounding politicians being common these days, we are seeing more and more negative comments toward elected officials being posted on social media. Most of the comments are reactions or responses to policies and actions of officials, and therefore protected under our First Amendment right to free speech. However, if a negative comment crosses the line into a threat on the life of an official or his/her immediate family, that comment may no longer be protected under the Constitution. In fact, credible threats against public officials are considered serious crimes under U.S. Federal law.
What is a “credible threat”?
There are certain criteria that need to be met in order to charge and convict someone of the crime of threatening the life or safety of a government official.
- The threat must be a “credible threat”, meaning that it was made “knowingly and willingly,” and a reasonable person would regard the statement as a threat.
- The threat can be oral, written, or implied by a pattern of conduct, or even a combination of statements and conduct.
- The threat does not have to be communicated directly to the intended victim, but can be stated through a third party or on social media.
- The person making the threat must intend for the statement to be a threat, and he/she can be charged even if he/she claims that they did not intend to actually carry out the threat.
What must the State prove to convict someone of a threat?
In order to prove that someone who makes a threat made against a government official should be convicted, the State needs to prove:
- The suspect willingly threatened to kill or cause serious harm to the official or immediate family of the official.
- There was intent on behalf of the defendant that the statement was a threat.
- The defendant knew the person he was threatening is a public official, and the threat was directly related to official job duties.
- The person who was threatened reasonably feared for his life or safety, or the life or safety of someone in his immediate family.
- The defendant had the ability to carry out the threat.
When deciding on sentencing, the defendant’s intent can greatly affect the sentence. It’s important to note that the actual intent to harm is not required to convict someone of threatening a government official, simply the intent to scare. Punishments and penalties can include time in federal prison and significant fines.
If you have been accused of threatening someone either through a verbal threat or on social media, you should immediately contact a credible criminal defense attorney. Your attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system with regards to your charges and protect your rights.
Threatening the President or Other Government Officials. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2017, from http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/threatening-the-president-or-other-government-officials.html
Peter Burke, Sanela Sabovic, Janine Stanwood. (2017, June 28). Miami Gardens man threatens to kill Florida Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, police say. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from https://www.local10.com/news/crime/miami-gardens-man-threatens-to-kill-florida-rep-jose-felix-diaz-police-say