Threats Against the President

With the United States Presidential elections now a distant memory, many are satisfied with the results, while others are not. Throughout the United States, citizens discuss issues involving the new President. Some express their frustrations, while others support the actions taken by the new administration. One my ask, what would happen if one decides to threaten the President of the United States.

On March 21, 2010, a young man in Arlington, Texas posted a rant threatening the life of President Barack Obama on the popular online classifieds site Craigslist. The post, which expressed anger over passage of the Affordable Care Act, stated the following: “It is time for Obama to die. I am dedicating my life to the death of Obama and every employee of the federal government.” The Secret Service tracked the incendiary comments to Brian Dean Miller, who was living with his mother at the time, and arrested him for the crime of threatening the President.

As with most other constitutionally guaranteed liberties, the First Amendment right to free speech has its limits. Miller, whose speech most certainly crossed the line, pleaded guilty in a Dallas federal court and was sentenced to 27 months in prison without parole.

The statute criminalizing threats against the President and other federal officials can be found in Chapter 41 of the U.S. Code. This chapter covers several different types of threat-related offenses involving federal government officials, plus related offenses such as blackmail, extortion, and receiving kickbacks from public works employees

What is a ‘Credible’ Threat?

According to the law, the threat must be made “knowingly and willfully” and must take the larger context of the statement into consideration. If such a threat is uttered as a political argument or made simply in jest, it typically won’t rise to the level of “credible threat.” Regardless, defendants may not defend against such charges by stating that the threat was accompanied by religious or political statements.

For example, if a comedian makes a joke about killing the president, it probably wouldn’t violate the law, even if it lacks good taste (although a comedian is still capable of making a credible threat). In fact, legendary comedian Groucho Marx was quoted in 1971 as saying “I think the only hope this country has is Nixon’s assassination.” It may have been an irresponsible comment, but one protected as free speech.

Essentially, the jury is tasked with determining whether a statement is a credible threat against the President, Vice President, or other government official covered by this statute. First Amendment protections make this determination necessarily nuanced and fact-based. Did the defendant mean their words to be taken as a threat, and would a reasonable person regard them as such? What tone was used when the statement was made, and what were the reactions of the listeners or audience?

Miller, the man who threatened President Obama in 2010, reportedly admitted that he wrote the threatening words and reiterated his threat when initially confronted by federal agents. Since he pleaded guilty, the decision of whether his threat was credible wasn’t in the hands of a jury.

Anyone who is found guilty of making a credible threat of death, kidnapping, or bodily harm against the President, Vice President, or other individuals covered by this statute faces up to five years in prison and/or up to $250,000 in fines. In addition, anyone convicted of this crime may be sentenced to three years of supervised release but also may have internet access restrictions imposed upon release.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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