Strategic Federal And State Criminal Defense

Freedom of speech does not mean you can threaten officials

On Behalf of | Nov 26, 2018 | Federal Crimes |

With the intense political climate the country faces these days, it is easy to see why many people have strong emotions and reactions. It is imperative that everyone who is feeling strongly about what’s going on understands that there are some things that shouldn’t be said.

One thing that is illegal is threatening the President of the United States, Vice President and many other government officials. It is possible to face federal criminal charges if you are accused of doing so.

But, doesn’t the First Amendment protect freedom of speech?

The First Amendment of the Constitution does protect the freedom of speech, but it doesn’t provide protection against threatening government officials. The laws in this country take this type of behavior seriously. You can find information about threats against federal officials, including the President, in Chapter 41 of the U.S. Code.

There are instances in which comments might not cause any legal action. For example, Groucho Marx made a statement in 1971 that claimed assassination of Nixon was the only hope this country had. He didn’t face charges for that statement.

What behaviors constitute this type of crime?

In order to be convicted of threatening the President or another official, you have to willingly and knowingly make the statements about wanting to harm or assassinate them. Religious beliefs and the presence of political statements don’t provide defenses against this type of charge.

The treat has to be credible. There has to be a good chance that the person will try to see it to fruition. Simply making a joke or statement that alludes to this fact isn’t going to constitute a criminal action. If there isn’t a belief that you would act on your statement, there isn’t a criminal element present.

What penalties come with a conviction?

Criminal charges related to threatening a government official must be taken seriously. You need to review the options that you have for a defense. Typically, this will be either going through a trial before a jury of your peers or working out a plea deal.

The sentence for a conviction of threatening a federal government official is up to five years in prison, as well as the possibility of three years of supervised release when the incarceration period is complete. A fine of up to $250,000 is also possible. The same sentence is possible if the threats were made to internationally protected people, foreign officials or official guests visiting the United States.