The DC Court of Appeals in Lee Carroll v. U.S., decided on August 3rd, 2017; redefined the legal requisite for criminal conviction under the Threats’ Statute.

Factually, the defendant was convicted for assaulting his girlfriend while also verbally threatening her physical harm.

The DC misdemeanor as well as the Felony threats statutes do not enlist legal elements nor require facially mens rea or criminal intent.

The misdemeanor threats statute (D.C. Code § 22-407) provides:

Whoever is convicted in the District of threats to do bodily harm shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, in addition thereto, or in lieu thereof, may be required to give bond to keep the peace for a period not exceeding 1 year.

The felony threats statute (D.C. Code § 22-1810):

Whoever threatens within the District of Columbia to kidnap any person or to injure the person of another or physically damage the property of any person or of another person, in whole or in part, shall be fined not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01 or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

The statutes lack to address the question of the requisite mens rea for the crime of threats commonly referred to as criminal intent.

The trial court incorrectly had concluded that since the: 1) threatening words were uttered; and 2) the complainant had reasonably believed them to be true — then there was sufficient legal basis for criminal threats conviction.

The Supreme Court recently in Elonis v. United States required proof of criminal intent with the threat charges and convictions and the Court of Appeals applied the very same reasoning in requiring proof of mens rea or criminal intent before threats conviction can be sustained.

The defendant’s purpose and knowledge must be proven. That is, the defendant purposely and with knowledge engaged in the prohibited conduct.

The mens rea or the criminal intent requirement is satisfied when it is proven that the communication was for the purpose of issuing a threat, or with knowledge that the communication will be viewed as a threat.

The Defendant must have acted with the purpose to threaten or with knowledge that his words would be perceived as a threat otherwise the conduct is no criminal.

The trial court did not determine that Mr. Carrell spoke the words to the complainant with knowledge or purpose that they would be understood as a threat and thus the case was remanded to allow the trial court to make the necessary mens rea finding.

This ruling imposes much needed clarity and guidance to the nebulous criminal threats statute and would require that not only the threatening words were uttered and that the complainant believed them to be true — but that the defendant uttered the words with the purpose and knowledge to issue threats.

Contact our Washington DC criminal lawyer today for full and comprehensive case evaluation and analysis.

Categories: Criminal Defense.