Definition of Written Threats
In Florida, the crime of Written Threats occurs where a defendant makes and procures the sending of a written or electronic communication containing a threat to kill or injure another person, or a family member of that person.
Section 836.10, Florida Statutes, provides as follows:
Any person who writes or composes and also sends or procures the sending of any letter, inscribed communication, or electronic communication . . . containing a threat to kill or to do bodily injury to the person to whom such letter or communication is sent, or a threat to kill or do bodily injury to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent commits a felony of the second degree.
Proof at Trial
To prove the crime of Written Threats at trial, the prosecution must establish the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant wrote or composed a threat to kill or inflict bodily injury;
- The defendant sent or procured the sending of that communication to another person; and
- The threat was to the recipient of the communication or a member of his or her family. State v. Wise, 664 So. 2d 1028 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995).
Displaying or Posting Threats
When a person composes a threatening written statement of thought, and then displays or posts the composition in such a way that someone else can see it, the statement is deemed “sent” as soon as the threatened individual (or his or her family) receives the thoughts made available by the composer. O’Leary v. State, 109 So. 3d 874 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).
Thus, a defendant commits the crime of Written Threats where he posts threatening statements on his personal Facebook page, and those statements are later read by a family member of the victim. Id.
- See also State vs. Wise, 664 So. 2d 1028, 1030 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995); Suggs v. State, 72 So. 3d 145, 147 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011)).
Intent to Harm Not Required
A conviction for written threats does not require an intent on part of the defendant to actually harm the victim/recipient. Saidi v. State, 845 So. 2d 1022, 1027 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003).
Statute is Constitutional
Numerous constitutional challenges have been brought against Florida’s Written Threats statute. These challenges have centered on issues of vagueness and free speech.
Florida appellate courts have consistently rejected both arguments, holding that the law gives sufficient notice, and that threats to kill or inflict injury are not constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Saidi, 845 So. 2d 1022 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003) (rejecting a vagueness challenge); Smith v. State, 532 So. 2d 50 (Fla. 2d DCA 1988) (rejecting First Amendment challenge in analogous case involving public servants).
Penalties for Written Threats
Under Florida law, the crime of Written Threats is classified as a second degree felony, with penalties of up to 15 years in prison or 15 years of probation, and a $10,000 fine.
Written Threats carries a Level 6 offense severity ranking under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Even for first-time offenders, prosecutors in Florida will often seek jail or rigorous probationary sentences for these types of crimes.
Defenses to Written Threats
There are numerous defenses available to contest a charge of Written Threats, and no person should attempt to resolve such a case without first consulting with a criminal attorney. Some of the more common defenses include the following:
- Factual and evidentiary disputes as to whether the accused was the actual sender of the written threats;
- Disputes as to whether the communication was actually “sent” to the recipient, within the meaning of applicable statutes and case law;
- Factual disputes as to whether the communication constitutes a threat;
- Communication sent unintentionally;
- Alleged threat sent by another person to the recipient or a family member of the recipient;
- Alleged threat constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment;
- Communication constitutes a non-threatening figure of speech;
- False accusations by a vindictive recipient;
- Threat does not propose bodily injury or killing.
Contact an Attorney
If you have been charged with Written Threats in Jacksonville, Orlando, or the surrounding counties, contact Hussein & Webber, PL for a free consultation. You may have defenses available to contest the charge or to minimize potential penalties.