In Minnesota, a terroristic threat charge encompasses a broad range of conduct that does not always rise to the severity of this felony offense.
Minnesota criminalizes threats of violence intended to terrorize another person or threats made with reckless disregard of causing terror.
If you are convicted of a terroristic threat in Minnesota, you can face felony charges resulting in up to ten years in prison and fines of up to $20,000.
The state takes a hard-line stance on this crime, and it is critical that anyone charged with this offense consults with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss their defenses.
Threats of Violence in MN
Minnesota Statutes Section 609.713 explains that a person is guilty of threats of violence if the person does any of the following:
- Threatens, directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with the purpose of terrorizing another or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing terror in another;
- Communicates to another that explosives, an explosive device, or any incendiary device are present at a named place or location, whether or not the same is, in fact, present with the purpose of terrorizing another or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing terror in another; or
- Displays, exhibits, brandishes, or otherwise uses a replica firearm or a BB gun in a threatening manner with the intent to terrify another person or in reckless disregard for the risk of causing terror in another person.
Essentially, a threat of violence charge focuses on whether the accused made a threat of a future crime of violence.
Examples of Direct Threats
Various scenarios can fall under the first prong of a terroristic threats charge.
Some threats of violence examples include the following:
- Verbal threats—explicitly telling someone, “I will shoot you,” “I’m going to stab your family,” or other similar threats;
- Written threats—sending a letter that contains threats against an individual or group;
- Electronic threats—text messages, emails, or social media posts that express an intent to harm someone;
- Physical gestures—making a stabbing motion, brandishing a weapon, or making a gun shape with your fingers and aiming it at someone; and
- Symbolic actions—leaving a harmful symbol, like a noose or a broken object, in someone’s area to intimidate them.
The specific context and details of the threat can impact whether the government can successfully convict a person of these charges.
Threats of Violence – Reckless Disregard of a Risk
Indirect threats of violence are more veiled or ambiguous than direct threats but can still communicate an intent to cause harm or terrorize someone.
In Minnesota, the context of the threat often determines its legal implications. However, indirect threats of violence are generally made to the alleged victim but communicated to another person.
Examples of Indirect Threat of Violence
The following hypothetical situation illustrates an example of an indirect threat of violence. Suppose neighbors Anna and Bill were arguing over property boundaries.
Bill later posted a picture on his social media showing a picture of a shed on fire, with a caption that read, “It’s too bad that this happens to people who do not respect their neighbor’s property.”
Anna, frightened, perceived this as a threat to her property, even though Bill did not directly post that he would harm Anna or her property.
These cases often hinge on whether the accused exhibited a reckless disregard for the risk of causing terror or inconvenience to the alleged victim.
Over the years, much litigation has involved whether conduct amounts to a “reckless disregard” and if the statute violates the First Amendment.
The Minnesota Supreme Court clarified that a person recklessly makes threats of violence when the following occurs:
- The accused communicates an intention to injure another or their property through words or actions;
- The threat is to commit a statutorily defined crime of violence;
- Those words or conduct contextually create a reasonable apprehension that the accused will follow through with or act on the threat, and
- The accused makes the violent threat in conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that their words or conduct will cause extreme fear.
It is important to note that the threats are not examined in a vacuum, and context matters.
Terroristic Threats in MN Sentence Possibilities
In Minnesota, terroristic threat offenses carry serious penalties. Typically, in Minnesota, if you are convicted of making threats of violence, you can face imprisonment for not more than five years or payment of a fine of not more than $10,000 or both.
Further, if the threat involves falsely indicating the presence of an explosive or other harmful device in a public or private place causing an evacuation, the penalties can include imprisonment for not more than three years, a fine of not more than $3,000, or both. Repeat offenders can face even harsher penalties.
Defenses to Threats of Violence
Understanding the potential defenses to threats of violence charges is crucial to minimizing the vast consequences of a criminal conviction.
Lack of Intent
In most cases, the government must prove that the accused intended to terrorize another. In some cases, if the intent is absent, it can serve as a defense.
For example, a defense attorney can argue that the accused acted in transitory anger, which can sometimes eliminate the requisite intent.
If the alleged threat was ambiguous or could reasonably be interpreted as non-threatening, it might not meet the legal criteria for this offense.
Freedom of Speech
Some statements, though concerning, may be protected under the First Amendment if they don’t incite immediate harm or are not true threats.
Arguing mistaken identity, misinterpretation, or even purposeful false accusations may be a viable defense in some cases.
No Reckless Disregard
Further, attacking assertions of reckless disregard can be a potential defense.
Given the complexities of Minnesota’s terroristic threats statute, it is important that anyone facing these charges contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Were You Charged with Making a Terroristic Threat in Minnesota?
If you’ve recently been arrested and charged with making terroristic threats, your choice of which attorney you select to represent you can make a major difference in how your case turns out.
At Arechigo & Stokka, we have decades of experience and have handled hundreds of cases, including those involving threats of violence.
We understand the best defenses to these serious charges, when they apply, and how to effectively use them to mitigate your exposure, ensuring your case ends in the best result possible.
Attorney John Arechigo has a passion for criminal defense in St. Paul, MN. John received his J.D., from Hamline University School of Law and also carries a Bachelor of Arts from, The University of Minnesota. John was named Attorney of the Year for 2019 by Minnesota Lawyer. Additionally, John was also named as a 2019 Rising Star and was selected to Minnesota Super Lawyers in 2021. He devotes nearly 100% of his practice to defending individuals charged with a crime.