Communicating threats is a serious offense in North Carolina that occurs when an individual threatens another person or their child, spouse, sibling or property verbally or in writing. The threatened person must reasonably believe that the individual making the threat will carry it out.
Communicating threats is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and penalties include up to 12o days in jail and fines that vary on a case-by-case basis and according to the offender’s criminal history. The crimes of harassment and stalking include threatening communication, but are their own offenses with their own penalties.
Communicating Threats in North Carolina
North Carolina statute Section 14-277.1 states that an individual can face a charge of communicating threats if:
- They willfully threaten to injure an individual or their child, dependent, spouse or sibling.
- They willfully threaten to damage another’s property.
- They communicate the threat by any means.
- A reasonable individual believes the person making the threat will carry it out.
- A reasonable individual believes the threat.
The statute covers a broad set of circumstances, but jokes and exaggerations are not considered to meet these requirements. Communicating threats is not limited to in-person or verbal communication – it can also include leaving messages on social media, texting or emailing. For example, the offender may:
- Post to the victim’s Facebook page or send them a direct message saying, “The next time I run into you, I’ll kill you.”
- Text the victim saying, “If I see your car, I’m going to flatten your tires.”
- Send an email saying, “I’m going to make you and your family suffer. You better watch your back.”
Federal Rules for Communicating Threats Interstate
Federal law has rules regarding communicating threats. A person can face federal felony charges if they communicate threats to someone in another state through mail, email, calls, texts or social media.
This offense carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and can lead to stalking charges, which carry a maximum 10-year federal prison sentence. Depending on the threats communicated and whom they were intended for, other penalties may also apply.
What Is the Penalty for Communicating Threats in North Carolina?
When a person is convicted of communicating threats in the state of North Carolina, they face a Class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties include:
- Maximum 120 days in jail.
- Fine up to $1,000, depending on the gravity of the individual case and the offender’s criminal history.
- Maximum of 24 months' probation.
During probation, offenders must adhere to all of the court’s conditions, which can include not being charged with another crime during that time, keeping a job, and not leaving the state. An offender who violates a term of their probation may see their sentence activated.
Harassment and Harassing Phone Calls
Harassment takes place when an individual communicates any message in any way with no legitimate purpose to another to cause the victim to feel terrified, tormented or terrorized. This offense is a Class A1 misdemeanor in North Carolina with a maximum penalty of 150 days in jail.
Harassing phone calls is a different offense from harassment and from communicating threats. According to General Statute Section 14-196, a person making harassing phone calls uses indecent, threatening or profane language toward another during the call.
The offender may annoy or harass that person by calling them repeatedly or by making untrue statements over the phone. This offense is a Class 2 misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of $1,000 and up to 60 days in jail.
Stalking in North Carolina
Stalking involves more than one instance of harassment. It causes the victim to fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family or close associates, to suffer significant emotional distress, and to fear bodily injury, continued harassment or death.
An offender charged by law enforcement with stalking in North Carolina may face a misdemeanor or felony charge depending on their criminal record. Misdemeanor stalking is a Class A1 misdemeanor. If the offender has been convicted of prior stalking charges, they face a Class F felony, which carries between 10 to 41 months in prison.
Domestic Violence and Communicated Threats
Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse in which an individual seeks to have power and control over another person in an intimate relationship. Abusive behavior includes communicated threats, physical violence, humiliation, sexual abuse or name-calling, as well as other controlling behaviors.
An abuser can also limit the victim’s access to family, money, transportation or even work. Both sexes can be victims or perpetrators of domestic violence.
Domestic Violence Protective Orders
A person convicted of domestic violence may receive a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO), a restraining order that protects a domestic violence victim and their children from the abuser. Often, the court will order an abuser to leave the home; if they return without permission, they can face criminal charges.
Communicating threats can lead to a DVPO violation, as well as affect the offender negatively in divorce, visitation rights or child custody proceedings. Violating a restraining order is a Class A1 misdemeanor, but when combined with communicating threats, the abuser faces a Class H felony which carries a penalty of up to 25 months in prison.
- NC Legislature: Section 14-277.1. Communicating Threats
- Cornell Law: 18 U.S. Code Section 875 - Interstate Communications
- Cornell Law: 18 U.S. Code Section 2261 - Interstate Domestic Violence
- NC Legislature: Section 14-196 Using Profane, Indecent or Threatening Language to any Person Over Telephone; Annoying or Harassing by Repeated Telephoning or making false statements over telephone.
- NC Legislature: Section 14-277.3A Stalking
- Browning & Long: What Sentence Could Be Imposed if You Are Convicted of a Felony?
- Dement, Askew and Johnson: Threats, Harassment, and Stalking
- NC Legislature: Section 50B-4.1 Violation of Valid Protective Order
- Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett: Communicated Threats of Violence Is a Crime in NC
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.