Definition of Written Threats
In Florida, the crime of Written Threats occurs where a defendant composes and sends a threat in writing to kill or harm another person (or family member of that person), or where a defendant composes and makes viewable a written threat to carry out a mass shooting or act of terrorism.
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…to any person, 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…or any person who makes, posts, or transmits a threat…to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism, in any manner that would allow another person to view the threat, commits a felony of the second degree…
Proof at Trial
There are two distinct ways of proving the offense of Written Threats in Florida.
Where an individual or his or her family member are the subject of the threat, the prosecution must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant wrote or composed a letter, electronic communication, or inscribed communication;
- The letter, electronic communication, or inscribed communication contained a threat to kill or inflict bodily injury on the victim or victim’s family;
- The defendant sent or procured the sending of that letter, electronic communication, or inscribed communication to the victim.
Mass Shooting / Terrorism
Where the threats at issue involve a mass shooting or act of terrorism, the prosecution must the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant made, posted, or transmitted a writing or other record;
- The writing or other record contained a threat to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism;
- The defendant made, posted, or transmitted the writing or other record in a manner that allowed another person to view the threat.
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;
- Defendant did not make or post the threat in a manner to make the threat viewable;
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.