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What Is a Death Threat?

Threatening someone's life constitutes a death threat.
A death threat could be considered a serious offense and result in criminal charges.
A person who is accused of making death threats may be arrested by law enforcement.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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A death threat is a statement threatening someone else’s life. The person making the threat may have no intention of following through on it but still be charged with a variety of crimes. While charges are most serious when the threat is real, people can face serious consequences for even lightly making these statements, and the degree to which a charge is prosecuted may depend on who is threatened and how.

Saying “I’ll kill you,” is a common exaggerative statement that many people employ, often in the heat of the moment. Even in a country where free speech is a basic right, this statement can be taken seriously, no matter if the person means it or not. Sometimes the law is highly interpretive on this matter. Making a statement that someone deserves to die could possibly not constitute a death threat, but stating that an individual will take action to kill someone does.

To avoid possible charges, it’s really best for people not to make statements that could be construed as threats. Alluding to the death of someone else or of a group of people is simply not recommended from a legal standpoint, no matter how figurative a statement is. There is little point in risking criminal charges when many alternative ways exist to express dislike of individuals or groups.

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While some people make unreal or accidental death threats, others make serious ones. They can state these verbally, write them in letters, release them in videos, or communicate them in other forms. A threat can be toward one individual, a small group, or a large group, and encompass threats of destruction of property that would also kill people, like bomb threats. Making such a threat alone may be illegal and intent to carry through with a threat can also carry more serious charges. Stating plans to commit acts of terrorism, mass murder, or to harm high-ranking officials could be viewed most seriously.

It is important for people to understand that things like bomb threats, which are occasionally used lightly by students in school settings, are considered potential acts of terrorism. This has been legally tested in some courts with even very young children who have gotten angry and made a threat to blow up a school or made a bomb threat as a prank to end a school day early. Kids should be taught that they must never make such a threat because many schools won’t ignore a statement like this or treat it lightly.

Essentially, the death threat may result in criminal charges and should be considered a potentially serious offense. Specific charges may depend on the region, who is threatened, and the degree to which a court might view the threat as serious. It makes sense for individuals to avoid any statements of this nature and especially to avoid any comments that appear to suggest that a person wants to act in terrorist or treasonous ways.

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anon940595
Post 12

I got a phone call and when I answered they said, "I'm going to kill you." Then they sat there. I went to the police but didn't have a number to give them. They said there was nothing they could do. I know who it was, though. Someone trying to break up my marriage: my husband's ex girlfriend.

anon357160
Post 11

I was at a family party and a sister of the man having the party was very drunk and started saying there was a man there, who was a friend of her dad's, who had been a creep since she was a little girl and she started freaking out and turning her head into her shoulder and acting pretty strange.

I told her to calm down and she then said her dad was the devil. I know the father and he's actually a great guy. I told her to come to the dance floor to change her state of mind. Anyway, at the next venue, I told the brother what had gone on and sat down. The next minute I felt liquid being thrown in my face, looked up to see another bottle was being thrown until my hair was soaked. I was so overwhelmed I left in tears.

I spoke with the father the next day and told him what his daughter had said and just said she was very drunk. I was just stating I was unhappy to have beer thrown at me for no reason and wasn't prepared to continue a friendship with the son. Unknown to me, there had been a family feud after the party involving the drunk girl and granddaughter.

Two days later, I was in town and talking with a friend on the mobile on a quiet street. I looked up and the son and his mother came rushing towards me. He grabbed my mobile and it fell to the ground. He was shouting I better not be talking to anyone about it. His mother was pointing her finger in my face saying she would "see me in court" and the son was pulling back his fist as if to hit me. I was asking what the heck had I done.

He then threw his head back to head butt me. I was still asking him what I had done. He was shouting you better leave town, I'm going to have you murdered. He continued to say this over and over. As they walked off, his mother was asking him if he was he mental.

Two days later he came to my door, denying it all, saying I am only hearing what I want to hear and that his sister didn't say those things. I could not believe my ears. He wasn't listening to her and I didn't imagine the assault.

He asked to come in. I put my chain on the door though, because there was no way this was going to happen. I don't trust liars.

My friend heard it all through the mobile on the street and told me to go to the police. I just don't know what to do.

anon341207
Post 10

"Apartment complex frictions happen often," said the police when we reported our neighbor (who was intoxicated) when he threatened my wife, who was sitting on our patio as she often does. He told her that her life would be taken and mine too.

He has a lot of problems with our nice patio and doesn't want an audience when he gets drunk. He complained to the police that we get special privileges here at the apartments, like flowers we have planted and a bird bath that enhance our patio. He has a beer can smasher and a trash can. And he takes pride in a huge barbeque cooker. These seem very trivial and unworthy of such hate.

This man/boy is very unstable and we are scared. The police said it's my word against his. I am 62 with a defibrillator in my chest and titanium in a total lumbar loss, or I would try to whip his butt. He is a very large and well built. The police said one of us should move. We have lived here 18 years. I don't want to move and disability doesn't pay enough for us to move. I need some sound advice.

anon329851
Post 9

Let's clarify this. In this Nazi government, we incarcerate more people per capita then every country on the planet. With the help of a few corrupt prosecutors -- with no checks and balances -- who are immoral and unethical, there is no way to stop them from abusing their positions.

I was in a hospital for brain damage victims; I just spent 35 days in a coma, and said lots of stupid things. I was retarded for the first week. A week and a half later, I was in a physical rehabilitation center. The woman I loved, and my children left me homeless while I was there. Needless to say, I had a full plate of emotional and biological consequences I had to deal with. It was far too much, and I wasn't really all there.

On the phone one day, I told my friend that karma got me because I was a bad man, and I said, "Karma will get her, too, for what she did. She's dead."

A few days later, after a month of being "rehabilitated," I was picked up by the police department in Kansas City and taken to jail for 37 days for criminal threat, even though I didn't threaten to kill anybody. All the facts, witness testimonies, showed that I did absolutely nothing. But the corrupt prosecution was able to determine my bond on offenses that were over a decade old -- and also unconstitutional -- and gave me a $50,000 bond because of my troubled youth and all the trouble I used to get into.

So I got placed in the medical ward of the jail with an alleged rapist who had the same bond, even though all I did was talk, and he allegedly raped a woman.

I spent 37 days in jail, my mind was destroyed with all the traumas I went through, and I told my state-appointed attorney to get me a plea bargain. He fought me on that, saying I didn't commit a crime. I told him that I know I didn't, but it isn't the first time I'd been raped by the government for something I didn't do. If I could get out of jail and get back to work, and finally end this, I would go to trial, win, and move on. But instead, I ruined my life, any prospect of a job, and accepted a plea bargain for a personal felony that can never be expunged.

That is the "land of the free." The reality, the consequences. Free speech, yeah right. You get put in jail even when all the facts say you didn't threaten anybody harm. This happens all the time.

Learn it, and do something about it. This government needs a reminder of who runs the show.

anon310316
Post 7

Does the person's past behavior influence how a threat is perceived? I was issued a death threat by a man who has been charged in a stabbing and who once ran a hate group that targeted immigrants. When he said, "I'll kill you" it carried a lot more weight because of his violent history. Will the courts see it that way?

anon298818
Post 6

My wife has had an ongoing affair with another man for, as we recently learned, several years. His wife and I have talked on the phone several times recently, comparing notes on what we know about their affair.

Her husband (who is having the affair with my wife) called me recently and while screaming obscenities at me for calling his wife, said if I continued to call her he would "put a bullet in my head." His wife was present when he did it and can verify the threat and I have a text message from my wife that corroborates it. Do I have grounds for legal action? What specific actions can I bring against this guy?

anon295358
Post 5

My friend was drunk one night and got really upset about something she bought on eBay that turned out be not what it was listed as. The seller said it was new and it was used and lied about a lot of things. He also said he was 14 but she didn't believe him.

In her drunken state she emailed him with a threat like, "I know where you live and where you sleep (She doesn't actually know anything about him other than he is on the other side of the country)", and things like that, but I don't know if she actually said she wanted to do something to him. She can't remember either, and she deleted the emails.

The person said he reported her to ITA (?? don't know if I got that right). What can happen to her if he actually did?

anon281114
Post 4

I told a group of people that they deserved to be painfully tortured and each have a bullet in their head as well as their building burned down. I did it online, and did not post my name or any contact info. I never once threatened to do anything myself, just said they deserved it. How much trouble will I be in if they turn it into the police?

anon277726
Post 3

@anon266306: You're out of luck. I did the same thing and ended up in jail. The world is messed up these days.

anon266306
Post 2

I found out this girl I've been talking to for a while has an ex that was abusive, so I messaged him on facebook saying to meet me somewhere to fight for putting her through stuff like that. I said, "You're dead" and now he's saying he's going to turn it into the police department. What can I do?

anon243809
Post 1

My son in law divorced my daughter because she was afraid of him and he is an angry alcoholic. He interfered with a 911 call while drunk and walked out and ended up walking in the middle of the road drunk. My daughter called the police and they picked him up but did not charge him with anything. Not even public drunkenness. They gave him a ride home to his sister's house.

He has called here 20 times a day and swears and screams at her using foul language. He is an active alcoholic who also drinks mouthwash. The state has determined that she must pick up support money at his home, where she gets the language and threats. Recently, she has found a nice man who has not moved in, but they see each other occasionally. Her ex husband has started to scream death threats to her friend. Tonight she taped his tirade and caught him three times saying he would kill "John". He said he would find him and kill him.

My daughter downloaded the tapes onto her attorney's phone with a message regarding the circumstances. We are hoping he can be charged. The court has put him on the docket 16 times for a driving while DUI/Drugs, failure to carry minimum insurance, and failure to comply with child support, rehab or community service.

It's frustrating that the court also issued a generous visitation for my five year old grandson which must be religiously kept or will put my daughter in legal trouble.

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