The written word can pack a punch, especially when it comes in the form of a threatening letter. Although these sorts of letters may be intimidating or even scary, you should know that you can go to the police if you receive one, since sending threatening letters to others through the mail is a crime. In fact, federal law prohibits sending them -- and most states have laws that prohibit sending threatening letters as well.
Federal law carries harsh penalties for those who send threatening letters to other individuals. Anyone who sends a letter through the U.S. Postal Service demanding money or other things of value under the auspices of threat of bodily harm or kidnapping can face 20 years in federal prison. Similarly, anyone who threatens to injure the reputation of another unless given money can face jail time.
In addition to letters sent through the mail, it is also a federal crime to send threatening emails to another person. Specifically, it is illegal to send an email threatening to kidnap or injure someone. Anyone convicted under this statute faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. States also prohibit threatening or harassing others through email -- and anyone in violation of these laws can face jail time or other punishments as well.
Federal law offers significant protection from written threats and harassment. However, an individual who sends threatening letters to another either through the Internet or mail may also face punishment under state laws. Several states criminalize threats in general, which include those made through the mail or electronically. Nevada, for example, prohibits threats via text message, letter or email to kill another person, injure his reputation or destroy his property. California also criminalizes serious threats to kill or injure another person. Florida criminalizes "credible threats" that place the target in reasonable fear for his safety.
Threats of all kinds are generally punishable either by jail time, fines or community service. You may also receive a protective order from a judge to prevent the threatening person from contacting you. The first step to helping ensure that these threatening letters stop is to file a police report and press charges against the individual who you believe is threatening you. If the prosecutor's office chooses to bring charges against your harasser, or, if you want a protective order, you will likely have to testify in court and present evidence of the threats made against you.
Christina Whitaker began her writing career in 2005 in newspaper journalism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA and a law degree. Her legal experience includes work in Federal Court, and civil and criminal litigation. She also maintains a blog on social, pop-culture and cultural matters.