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Communicating Threats

Romantic relationships, marriages and divorces, and bearing and caring for children are matters close to the heart of nearly every human being. It is understandable, then, that when people become embroiled in legal matters involving their romantic, spousal, or parent-child relationships, their emotions are brought to a fever pitch. Sometimes legal battles become personal battles, and litigants who were once closer than friends seek to harm each other with words, threats or worse.

An individual who communicates a threat to someone can be charged with a crime unless the individual threatens to do something that he or she has a legal right to do. For instance, if a person is struck by a car and threatens to sue the driver who negligently struck him or her, that is not a crime. The person who was struck by the car has the legal right to sue the driver for negligence. The person who was struck by the car is threatening to perform an act that he or she has the legal right to undertake. It is a crime, on the other hand, to willfully threaten to physically injure a person or the person’s child, sibling, spouse, or dependent. It is also a crime to willfully threaten to damage the property of another. Intentionally injuring a person or a person’s property would constitute one or more crimes: assault, battery or intentional destruction of property. A person does not have a legal right to perform these crimes, and threatening to perform these criminal acts is likewise a crime.

Like many criminal charges, the State must prove a number of elements in order to demonstrate that a person has committed the crime of communicating threats. The State must show that the threat or such threats were communicated. The means by which threats are communicated may vary: a threat may be written, spoken, or communicated by other means that, under the circumstances of a particular case, would cause a reasonable person to believe the threat is likely to be carried out.

Another crime that is commonly associated with ongoing domestic disputes is stalking. Many ant-stalking criminal statutes were passed by state legislatures in the 1990s, when the phenomenon first became well publicized. North Carolina takes the crime of stalking very seriously, because stalking tends to inflict long-lasting harm on victims’ quality of life and the quality of life of family and friends of a victim. It is difficult to victims and their family and friends to proceed through the normal conduct of life with the threat of a stalker always lurking nearby.

If not dealt with swiftly, nonviolent stalking conduct may over time morph into threats and, unfortunately, violent action. The North Carolina General Assembly’s recognition of the strong connections between stalking, domestic violence and sexual assault catalyzed the passage of new law designed to hold stalkers accountable and to encourage effective intervention by the criminal justice system to prevent stalking from leading to violent behavior.

In many cases, individuals who are embroiled in domestic disputes appear at health care facilities where a person is receiving treatment, for the purpose of harassing or threatening the person. In other cases, a person present at a health care facility may become inpatient or aggravated with the attention being given a loved one. Threatening to injure a person who is or has been obtaining health care services or threatening to injure someone who is lawfully aiding another with health care services are also crimes.

Certain other acts designed to embarrass or humiliate third parties are criminal acts. It is unlawful, for instance, for a person to engage in targeted picketing, with or without signs. A person cannot picket outside any portion of someone’s residence when the person knows or reasonably should know that the manner in which one is picketing would cause a reasonable person to fear for one’s own safety, the safety of the person’s immediate family or close personal associates, or will inflict substantial emotional distress.

Like many domestic and criminal matters, the laws and rules that govern threatening and stalking conduct are complicated, and the outcome of an individual case is depends on the case’s unique facts and circumstances. If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of threatening or stalking conduct, or if you are embroiled in a domestic dispute and need the assistance of experienced family law attorneys, please call one of the attorneys of Arnold & Smith, PLLC at 704-370-2828 or Contact Us to set up an appointment today.