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Beating your terroristic threats charge in Pennsylvania—18 Pa.C.S. § 2706

Terroristic threats in Pennsylvania is found in the statute at 18 Pa.C.S. § 2706. Defendants charged with terroristic threats are often disoriented: “I’m not a terrorist, so how can I be charged with terroristic threats?” they ask. To learn more about this charge and how to defend it, you can watch this short video with a criminal defense attorney, or read on to learn more.

If you’ve been charged with terroristic threats in Pennsylvania, the prosecutor intends to show you did one of three things.

1. You committed a crime of violence with intent to terrorize someone.

A terroristic threats charge can be premised on a claim that you committed violence with the purpose of terrorizing someone. Given the existence of simple assault and aggravated assault charges in Pennsylvania, you might wonder why there’s an additional statute making the intent to scare someone with violence an additional crime. But terrorizing someone with violence can be an additional crime that is tacked on top of harassment and other charges.

Terroristic threats under this section usually require the police to show that your real intention, in addition to or instead of hurting someone physically, was to put them in a state of fear, and to intimidate them as to future decision making in one respect or another. A good defense attorney will help you challenge someone’s claim of terror, and also will argue the subjective issue of “intent” to terrorize someone. As with all charges that require the government to show your personal intent, the government can show this intent by circumstantial evidence.

2. You caused the evacuation of a building, a large gathering, or public transportation.

If the target of the alleged threats forces officials to evacuate a building, or to end or divert an outdoor gathering, such as a parade or concert, or if public transportation is the target, then that is a different type and level of terroristic threat. Bomb threats, threats to shoot people at a gathering and claims to be able to cause harm or terror at a large event are all examples of this section’s charges.

A rise in violent threats in recent years has also meant a rise in this type of charge. If you’re charged under this section, your criminal defense attorney will work to help you prove that the event or gathering that the police claim you threatened does not qualify under this section, or that your “threats” are not threats at all.

3. You caused serious public inconvenience or terror.

By far the broadest of the three sections of this statute is the third, which allows the police to charge anyone with causing “terror” or “public inconvenience.” But “mere spur-of-the-moment threats which result from anger” are not the target of the statute according to the Superior Court. Com v. Kidd, 442 A.2d 826, 827 (1982). Merely screaming at a police officer while handcuffed and in custody was not enough int hat case to qualify under this section, and other cases have held similar limitations on the police’s ability to charge this crime.

Nonetheless, threats directed at someone which inadvertently cause public terror or inconvenience are enough to satisfy this element. Examples include where someone arguing loudly and publicly causes a store to have to shut down or requires the police to close off a public area to foot traffic while they deal with an outburst.

Does the First Amendment protect your speech?

The First Amendment protects speech—so are you off the hook? Not necessarily, but it’s important to explore your free speech rights with your defense lawyer. “True threats” are not protected by the First Amendment or by the Pennsylvania Constitution, but the Supreme Court of the United States has held that “threats” are not always “true threats.” If it can’t be shown you intended to act on the threat, and if there are political overtones to the threat made, then the First Amendment may be a defense for you.

Is your charge a misdemeanor or a felony?

Most terroristic threats charges in Pennsylvania are misdemeanors of the first degree. Terroristic threats can be a felony of the third degree under the second section above if the threats involved caused a group to deviate from their normal operations or gathering. So, for example, if a school was disrupted by someone’s threats, or if a church couldn’t meet one Sunday, or if the police department has to temporarily relocate staff while checking on threats, this can elevate the charge to a felony.

Conclusion: We represent clients in Reading, Allentown, Lancaster, York, Scranton and beyond

If you’ve been charged under Pennsylvania’s terroristic threats statute, call Cornerstone Law Firm to speak with a criminal defense lawyer today. We can talk about how to defend your case and help you prepare to face these charges.