Making certain types of threats can be considered a criminal offence.
Even if you aren’t face-to-face with the other person when the alleged threats are made, you can still potentially be charged with using phone or email or any other form of electronic communication to harass, intimidate or stalk someone.
What is a threat?
The legal definition of a threat is something that is intended to cause the person being threatened to fear for their immediate safety.
To be considered a threat for the purposes of criminal charges, there needs to be a reasonable fear that the person will be able to carry out the threat.
Threats that are made by a person who clearly has no means of carrying them out aren’t usually considered to be serious.
Technically, if you are under suspicion of making a threat, you can be charged with common assault if the threats have caused a person to feel immediate fear for their safety.
The threats need to be serious and such that a reasonable person would have cause to fear them being carried out. An assault charge for making a threat will usually be treated as a summary offence, which leads to a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
If you are found guilty of sending documents containing threats, you can potentially be charged under Section 31 of the Crimes Act, with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
What is the penalty for making threats over the phone?
Making telephone threats can be dealt with under a number of different offences, which carry different penalties.
It is unlikely that a telephone threat made from a long distance will lead to an assault charge, as there is no reason for the alleged victim to have immediate fears for their safety.
But it is an offence to use a carriage service to make threats under Section 474.15 of the Telecommunications Offences Act.
A carriage service can include any telecommunications device, including a phone or computer.
If a threat to kill is made with the intention of making the person being threatened fear for their safety, the maximum penalty is 10 years’ imprisonment.
If a threat of harm is made with the intention of causing someone to fear for their safety, the maximum sentence is seven years’ imprisonment.
For you to be found guilty of one of these offences, it is not necessary for the alleged victim to actually fear that the threats will be carried out.
All the prosecution has to prove is that you intended the alleged victim to fear for their safety.
What about hoax threats?
Making telephone threats that you don’t intend to carry out is also an offence under Section 474.16 of the Telecommunications Offences Act.
Using a carriage service to make hoax threats with the intention of making someone think that there is an explosive device, or a dangerous or harmful thing that has been left or sent somewhere, comes with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
Making a hoax threat can also be dealt with under Section 93Q of the Crimes Act.
Conveying false information that a person or property is in danger comes with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
To be convicted of these charges, the prosecution needs to prove that you conveyed information that you knew was false or misleading, and that you did it with the intention of causing the person you threatened to fear for the safety of their person or property or both.
Making threats can be a serious offence, depending on the circumstances.
If you have been charged with making telephone threats or threats through any other means, it’s important to seek legal advice from an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as possible.