As children, we were taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words cannot hurt me.” While this may be a well-known saying, the State of North Carolina does not have the same opinion when it comes to committing a criminal offense.

A very common criminal charge that we see here at Ludlum Law Firm is the offense of “communicating threats.” Most people who are charged with this crime don’t understand why they were even charged, and once we explain why they were charged, they’re shocked that such actions could even be considered a criminal offense. The problem with the crime of communicating threats is that the statute is vague and most people have no intent of committing the crime when they commit it.

There is a strange nuance in North Carolina when it comes to the difference between assaulting someone and threatening to assault someone. The fact is that threatening to assault someone carries a harsher punishment than actually assaulting them. While the crime of assault does not require physical contact, it does require more than mere words. Meaning, it requires the threat of immediate or imminent harm such as a lunge, missed punch, or raising of an object threatening to strike someone. If you are convicted of simple assault in NC, you will be punished for committing a Class 2 misdemeanor. Here lies the strange nuance. If you are convicted of merely communicating a threat and not actually striking or attempting to strike someone, but only threatening to harm someone through some form of communication, then you are convicted of the more serious charge of communicating threats which is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which could carry higher fines and possibly more jail time. The statute reads:

Under N.C.G.S. §14-277.1:

  • (a) A person is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor if without lawful authority:
    • (1) He willfully threatens to physically injure the person or that person’s child, sibling, spouse, or dependent or willfully threatens to damage the property of another;
    • (2) The threat is communicated to the other person, orally, in writing, or by any other means;
    • (3) The threat is made in a manner and under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to believe that the threat is likely to be carried out; and
    • (4) The person threatened believes that the threat will be carried out.

Basically, if you threaten to physically harm someone by telling them to their face or by posting a threat on Facebook or some form of social media, and that person reasonably believes that you intend on carrying out that threat, you can be convicted of communicating threats. One of the most common set of facts that we see with the communicating threat charge is a threat made on Facebook. For example, an ex-spouse/partner is angry with their ex’s new partner and they make a comment on Facebook such as, “next time I see you I’m going to beat your ***”.  This is how a simple Facebook post of someone venting their frustrations turns into a Class 1 misdemeanor charge.

This is a topic of conversation that parents need to have with their children. They need to be warned about the possible consequences of venting their frustrations on social media. This post also serves as a warning to adults as well. Kids are not the only ones guilty of “pressing send” when they are angry and frustrated, even though they did not intend on actually harming anyone. If you have been charged with communicating threats, you need to contact a lawyer.  The attorneys at Ludlum Law Firm have the experience and knowledge to defend these charges.  While every case is different, often times it’s possible to get these charges dismissed or reduced to avoid a criminal conviction or harsher punishment. If you have been charged with communicating threats or any other criminal matter, please give us a call and give us the opportunity to help you have the best possible outcome.