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Criminal Threats in Massachusetts

Under Instruction § 6.700 of the Criminal Model Jury Instructions for Use in the District Court, the Commonwealth needs to establish the following to show a criminal threat:  (1) the defendant stated an intention to harm someone or someone’s property presently or in the future, (2) the defendant intended this threat to be conveyed to a specific person, (3) the injury that was threatened would be a crime if actually committed, and (4) the defendant made this threat in a situation that could have reasonably caused the hearer to fear the defendant had both the intent and the ability to go through with the threat.

In a recent Massachusetts criminal threatening case, a man was charged with one count of threatening to perpetrate a crime under M.G.L. c. 275. section 2. The case arose when the defendant was arrested for not paying child support. He was taken out of the courtroom and moved to a lock-up area. While intake was taking place, he got angry and said that if this ruined his life, he would come back there with a machine gun. The intake was completed, and a different officer walked him to his cell. While being taken, he said that if this ruined his life, he would come back with a vengeance.

He was put in a cell and later moved to a house of correction. He moved to dismiss the complaint that he’d made a threat. This motion was granted. The Commonwealth appealed.

The appellate court explained that when reviewing a motion to dismiss a complaint, there must be enough evidence to establish the accused’s identity and probable cause to arrest him. Probable cause needs to be shown through reasonably trustworthy information that’s enough to warrant a reasonable person believing he has perpetrated the crime at issue.

It reasoned that what’s a threat needs to be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech. A threat isn’t defined under M.G.L c. 275, § 2, but case law has found that its elements include expressing the intention to inflict a crime on someone else and the ability to do so in circumstances that would justify apprehension by the person receiving such a threat.

The appellate court reasoned that in this case, the complaint didn’t show probable cause of an intention to harm or threaten any particular person or property. While the statements were menacing, that alone couldn’t be considered a threat under M.G. L. c. 275, § 2. The words had to be told to an intended victim directly or in another way, but in this case, the defendant didn’t seem to have a specific victim in mind. He didn’t focus on the court officers, and they weren’t terrified or worried after he spoke to them in that way.

The Commonwealth argued that the threat was implied and directed to people in the courthouse. The appellate court found that the only reasonable inference was that the defendant’s outbursts were based on anger about his arrest, rather than a true threat directed at a specific person. The appellate court found the complaint didn’t show probable cause that the defendant’s speech was a criminal threat.

If you are charged with making a criminal threat in Massachusetts, contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy today to discuss the criminal charges. Call us at 617-367-0450 or contact us through this website.

More Blog Posts:

Assault and Battery Causing Serious Injury in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published January 14, 2015

Receiving Stolen Property in Massachusetts, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, published December 15, 2014