Threats

Virginia

While many jurisdictions include threats to the health or safety of another person under the criminal offense of “assault,” words alone can never qualify as an assault in Virginia.  To partially rectify this potential gap in the coverage of the law, Virginia provides separate sanctions for written or electronic threats of death or bodily injury to another person or to a member of his family.

In order to secure a conviction for “threats” in Virgina, the government must prove that:  (1) the defendant knowingly communicated something, either in writing or electronically, (2) the written/electronic communication contained a threat to kill or to do bodily harm to another person, and (3) this threat placed the other person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury.

“Threat” is defined as “an avowed present determination or intent to injure presently or in the future.  Threats of physical harm need not be directly expressed but may be contained in “veiled statements.”

The penalty for a conviction for this offense in Virginia is a term of imprisonment for one to five years, confinement in jail for up to 12 months, and/or a fine of up to $2,500.  The same penalty applies to any person who makes a threat with the intent to commit an act of terrorism or who makes the threat of school property.  A person who orally threatens a school employee can be sentenced to jail for up to 12 months and fined up to $2,500.  Virginia Criminal Code § 18.2-60.

Washington, D.C.

There are two forms of the criminal offense of “threats” in Washington, D.C.:  (1) threats to do bodily injury, and (2) threats to kidnap or injure a person or damage his property.

“Threats to do bodily injury” is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 6 months in prison and/or maximum fine of $500.  In order to secure a conviction for this offense, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the defendant uttered words to another person, (2) the words were of such a nature to cause the “ordinary hearer” reasonably to believe that the threatened harm would take place, and (3) the defendant intended to utter the words as a threat.. Crimes Code § 22-407.

Threats as a felony offense requires the government to prove that (1) the defendant uttered words to another person, (2) the words were of such a nature to put a reasonable person in fear of being kidnapped or seriously injured or of hacing his property damaged, and (3) the defendant intended to utter the words as a threat.  This offense is punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years and a $5000 fine.  D.C. Crimes Code § 22-1810.