Criminal Threats in 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.

A number of recent cases have clarified the different elements of this offense.  In Carrell v. United States, for example, the D.C. Court of Appeals held that it is not enough for the government to prove that the defendant simply uttered the words that constituted the threat.  The government must also establish “that the defendant acted with the purpose to threaten or with knowledge that his words would be perceived as a threat.”  165 A.3d 314, 324 (D.C. 2017).  The Court also held in In re S.W. that a “threat is more than language in a vacuum.  It is not always reasonable — and sometimes it is patently irrational — to take every pronouncement at face value.”  45 A.3d 151, 156 (D.C. 2012).  In other words, context is important.  

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.