Federal and State Threatening Statutes
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<!-- field: HtmlTitle -->Federal and State Threatening Statutes
Topic:
CRIME; SENTENCING; TERRORISM; CRIMINAL PROCEDURE;
Location:
TERRORISM;
Scope:
Federal laws/regulations; Other States laws/regulations; Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report OLR Research Report


October 23, 2001

2001-R-0790

FEDERAL AND STATE THREATENING STATUTES

By: Christopher Reinhart, Associate Attorney

You asked about Connecticut, federal, and other state laws that address terrorist threats. You also asked whether they have higher penalties based on the amount of disruption the threat causes.

SUMMARY

In this report, we researched laws addressing three types of threats: (1) threats to commit a terrorist-type act; (2) false reports about one; and (3) placing a false bomb or a false biological, chemical, or radioactive substance to cause a disruption. If someone makes a threat and places a real bomb or a harmful substance, he could be charged under a jurisdiction's general criminal laws for attempted murder or attempted assault. We have not discussed these laws in this report.

In addition to Connecticut and federal law, we looked at the laws of three other states that have addressed this topic: Kentucky, New Jersey, and New York. Connecticut, federal, and New Jersey law do not make a distinction in penalties for threats based on the amount of disruption caused. Kentucky law provides higher penalties based on the place affected by a threat. New York law provides higher penalties based on the type of threat or the place affected by the threat.

In Connecticut, the threatening statute appears to address all types of threats to commit crimes, including a threat to use a bomb or biological, chemical, or radioactive substance. The false reporting statute also appears to cover all types of false reports that are likely to cause public alarm or inconvenience. Connecticut's breach of peace statute punishes placing a false bomb, but it does not address placing other items such as false chemical or biological substances that cause a disruption. But this conduct could fall under other statutes such as disorderly conduct or creating a public disturbance.

Federal law punishes threats to use weapons of mass destruction (including bombs and biological radioactive, and some chemical weapons). A separate statute punishes threats to use chemical weapons. It also punishes false reports about bombs but does not appear to address other false reports. Federal law also does not appear to address placing false items. But this conduct could be punished under the general criminal laws.

Kentucky law appears to address all types of threats, false reports, and placing false weapons. It also provides higher penalties based on the place affected by the threat. The first-degree crime of terroristic threatening punishes false statements about weapons of mass destruction and placing false weapons of mass destruction (including bombs and chemical, biological, and radioactive weapons) at schools and school functions, in school buses, and in government buildings. The second-degree crime punishes (1) false statements about and placing false weapons of mass destruction in locations other than those listed in the first-degree crime and (2) threats of violent crime at school functions. The third degree crime punishes threats of violent crime and false statements that cause evacuations.

New Jersey has a terroristic threat statute that addresses all types of threats to commit a violent crime to terrorize someone, cause an evacuation, or cause serious public inconvenience. It also addresses threats made in reckless disregard of the risk of causing terror or inconvenience. New Jersey also has a false alarms statute that appears to cover all types of false reports that are likely to cause an evacuation or public inconvenience. It also has a false bomb statute. There is no specific law for placing substances that look like biological, chemical, or radioactive agents of mass destruction but this conduct could fall under other statutes such as disorderly conduct or harassment.

New York has a terroristic threat statute that punishes threats to commit specified crimes intending to intimidate a civilian population or influence a government unit when it is likely to cause reasonable expectation or fear of the offense occurring. New York has three levels of false reporting crimes that provide higher penalties based on the type of threat or the place affected by the threat. The third degree crime addresses false reports of crimes, catastrophes, or emergencies that cause public alarm or inconvenience. The second-degree crime addresses false reports of fires, explosions, or the release of hazardous substances (certain types of chemical, biological, or radioactive substances). The first-degree crime addresses false warnings at sports stadiums, mass transportation facilities, enclosed shopping malls, public places and buildings, and school grounds. It also applies to certain repeat offenders.

New York also has a general statute on placing false bombs and higher penalties if the false bomb is placed at sports stadiums, mass transportation facilities, enclosed shopping malls, public places and buildings, and school grounds. There is no specific law that addresses the placement of false biological or chemical weapons, but these could fall under other laws such as criminal nuisance and disorderly conduct.

Attached are copies of all the laws discussed in this report.

CONNECTICUT

Threats

Under Connecticut law, a person is guilty of threatening when:

1. by physical threat, he intentionally places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent, serious physical injury;

2. he threatens to commit any crime of violence with the intent to terrorize another, to cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation, or otherwise to cause serious public inconvenience; or

3. he threatens to commit such crime in reckless disregard of the risk of causing terror or inconvenience.

Threatening is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison (CGS § 53a-62). This law appears to encompass bomb, biological, chemical, radiation, and other terrorist threats.

Another law that could be used against those who make terrorist threats is the law against harassment. This law makes it a class D felony (punishable by one to five years in prison) for certain convicted felons to intentionally harass, annoy, alarm, or terrorize another person by threatening to kill or physically injure him or someone else. The penalty applies if the convicted felon communicates the threat by telephone, telegraph, mail, or any other writing (CGS § 53a-182b). Otherwise harassment is a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in prison. This law also appears to encompass bomb, biological, chemical, radiation, and other terrorist threats. But, it is not clear whether this requires a specific person as a target.

A third law makes it illegal for someone to falsely report an incident when, knowing the information reported is false or baseless, he (1) initiates or circulates a false report or warning of an alleged occurrence or impending occurrence of a fire, explosion, crime, or emergency under circumstances in which it is likely that public alarm or inconvenience will result or (2) reports to any official having the function of dealing with emergencies involving danger to life or property, an alleged occurrence or impending occurrence of a fire, explosion, or other catastrophe or emergency that does not in fact occur (CGS § 53a-180a and b). This is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison, unless a serious injury or death occurs because of the false report or the false report claims someone has or will suffer serious physical injury or death in which case it is a class D felony (CGS § 53a-180a and b). This law covers false reports of bombs and appears to cover false reports of biological or chemical agents or radiation by referring to “crime,” “emergency,” and “catastrophe.

Placing False Bombs

A person commits breach of peace when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of it, he places a nonfunctional imitation of an explosive or incendiary device in a public place (CGS § 53a-181). This is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. If someone places a false bomb in a public place, but does not make a threat or report about it, this law and penalty appear to apply. A “public place” is an area used or held out for use by the public whether owned or operated by public or private interests.

Placing False Biological, Chemical, or Other Substances

Unlike the situation with false bombs, Connecticut does not appear to have a criminal law that explicitly prohibits placing imitations of dangerous or deadly biological, chemical, or other substances. But it does appear that at least two other general criminal laws apply.

Someone commits disorderly conduct when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of it, he (1) by offensive or disorderly conduct, annoys or interferes with a another person or (2) without lawful authority, disturbs any lawful assembly or meeting (CGS § 53a-182). This is a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in prison, a fine of up to $ 500, or both.

Someone creates a public disturbance when, with intent to cause inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of it, he annoys or interferes with another person by offensive conduct. This is an infraction punishable by an $ 88 fine (CGS §. 53a-181a).

FEDERAL LAW

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Under federal law, it is a crime to use, threaten, or attempt or conspire to use a weapon of mass destruction against (1) a U. S. national outside the U. S. , (2) any person in the U. S. when the results affect or would affect interstate or foreign commerce, or (3) property used by the U. S. in or outside the U. S. The statute also addresses a biological agent or toxin, but not certain chemical weapons (which are addressed by a statue described below). This crime is punishable by up to life in prison and if death results, the death penalty is also an option (18 U. S. C. 2332a).

The law defines a weapon of mass destruction as a:

1. destructive device such as a bomb, missile, or the parts used to readily convert a device into a destructive device;

2. weapon designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury by release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors;

3. weapon involving a disease organism; or

4. weapon designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.

Chemical Weapons

Under another federal law, it is a crime to knowingly (1) develop, produce, acquire, transfer, receive, retain, own, possess, use, or threaten to use a chemical weapon or (2) assist, induce, attempt, or conspire to do so. Certain people and agencies are exempt from the statute. The law applies to conduct (1) in the U. S. , (2) committed by or against U. S. nationals outside of the U. S. , or (3) committed against U. S. property inside or outside the U. S.

This crime is punishable by any term of years in prison. If the crime results in death, the punishment is death or life imprisonment. Property owned or used by the person is subject to forfeiture. Any property derived from and proceeds obtained from the offense and property used to commit or facilitate the offense is also subject to forfeiture. The statute also imposes an additional fine of up to twice the gross profit or proceeds from the offense (18 U. S. C. 229, et seq. ).

A chemical weapon is:

1. a toxic chemical and its precursors (chemical reactants that take part in producing a toxic chemical) unless intended for a purpose that is not prohibited and the type and quantity is consistent with that purpose,

2. a munition or device designed to cause death or harm through toxic chemicals that would be released by the device, or

3. equipment designed for use directly in connection with using such a munition or device.

A toxic chemical is a chemical that can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to people or animals.

The law specifies that it does not apply to self-defense devices such as pepper spray or chemical mace. It also does not prevent uses related to (1) industrial, agricultural, research, medical, or pharmaceutical activity; (2) protection against chemical weapons; (3) unrelated military purposes; and (4) law enforcement purposes such as riot control and imposing the death penalty.

Bombs or Fires

Federal law also punishes using the mail, telephone, telegraph, or an instrument of commerce to willfully make a threat or maliciously convey false information (knowing that it is false) about an attempt or alleged attempt to kill; injure; intimidate a person; or damage or destroy a building, vehicle, or property by fire or explosive. This crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison (18 U. S. C. 844(e)).

Other Laws

Federal law contains a number of other threatening statutes that apply to specific people, such as threats against the president (18 U. S. C. 871), threats against U. S. officials and employees (18 U. S. C. 872), and threats against foreign officials (18 U. S. C. 878). It also contains a statute regarding threats made using interstate commerce (18 U. S. C. 875).

Federal law does not appear to specifically address placing false bombs or false weapons of mass destruction. It also does not appear to specifically address false reports that do not involve bombs. This conduct may fall under other general criminal laws.

KENTUCKY

Under Kentucky law, a person commits terroristic threatening in the first degree if he intentionally makes a false statement about a weapon of mass destruction or intentionally places a counterfeit weapon of mass destruction:

1. in or on the grounds of a public or private elementary, secondary, vocational, or postsecondary school;

2. in a school bus or vehicle;

3. in a building or on the grounds of an official school-sanctioned function; or

4. in or on the grounds of a government building.

A person is not guilty of this crime if he innocently communicates a threat made by another to certain officials believing the threat is true and he identifies the person who made the threat if he knows him. The law also allows placement of a counterfeit weapon of mass destruction by a public servant for an official training exercise with the written permission of a school's chief officer.

This crime is a class C felony punishable by five to 10 years in prison (KY Rev. Stat. § 508. 075).

A person commits the crime of terroristic threatening in the second degree if he intentionally:

1. threatens to commit an act at a school function likely to result in death or serious physical injury to a student group, teacher, volunteer, or employee of a public or private elementary, secondary, vocational, or postsecondary school or a person reasonably expected to lawfully be present if the threat is related to their employment, work, or attendance at the school or school function;

2. makes false statements about placing a weapon of mass destruction at a location other than those listed in the first degree crime; or

3. places a counterfeit weapon of mass destruction in a place other than those listed in the first-degree crime.

This crime is a class D felony punishable by one to five years in prison (KY Rev. Stat. § 508. 078).

A person commits the crime of terroristic threatening in the third degree if he:

1. threatens to commit a crime likely to result in death or serious physical injury or substantial property damage or

2. intentionally makes false statements to cause the evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or public transportation facility.

This crime is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison (KY Rev. Stat. § 508. 080).

Kentucky defines a weapon of mass destruction as a:

1. destructive device other than fireworks (an explosive, incendiary, or poison gas bomb, grenade, mine, rocket, missile, or similar device and the unassembled components to make one);

2. weapon intended to cause death or serious physical injury by release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors; or

3. weapon involving a disease organism; or

4. weapon designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.

NEW JERSEY

Terroristic Threats

Under New Jersey law, a person commits the crime of making a terroristic threat if he threatens to commit a violent crime (1) to terrorize someone; (2) to cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or public transportation facility; (3) to cause serious public inconvenience; or (4) in reckless disregard of the risk of causing terror or inconvenience. This crime is punishable by three to five years in prison (N. J. Rev. Stat. § 2C: 12-3).

False Public Alarms

A person commits the crime of false public alarm if he (1) initiates or circulates a report or warning of an impending fire, explosion, bombing, crime, catastrophe, or emergency knowing that it is false or baseless and likely to cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or public transport facility, or to cause public inconvenience or alarm or (2) knowingly transmits the false alarm to or within an emergency organization. This crime is punishable by three to five years in prison. If the crime results in serious bodily injury or death, it is punishable by five to 10 years in prison.

If in addition to the false report, a person also places or causes the placement of a false bomb in a building, place of assembly, r public transport facility, or place likely to cause public inconvenience or alarm, it is punishable by three to five years in prison.

If someone knowingly places a 911 call without the purpose of reporting the need for service, it is a disorderly persons offense (NJ Rev. Stat. §2C: 33-3). Also a false report to law enforcement is a disorderly persons offense (NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C: 28-4).

Other Laws

New Jersey law does not appear to specifically address placement of other false items, such as false chemical, biological, or radioactive weapons, but this conduct could be punished under several other general criminal laws. The disorderly conduct statute punishes creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition intending to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm (NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C: 33-2). The harassment statute punishes acts intended to alarm or seriously annoy a

person when done with the intent to harass. Both of these are punished as petty offenses and are not considered crimes (NJ Rev. Stat. § 2C: 33-4).

NEW YORK

Making a Terrorist Threat

In New York, a person commits the crime of making a terrorist threat if he:

1. intends to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government unit by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government unit by murder, assassination, or kidnapping;

2. threatens to commit or cause the commission of a specified offense; and

3. causes a reasonable expectation or fear of the imminent commission of the offense.

“Specified offenses” are:

1. class A felonies other than controlled substance offenses,

2. violent felony offenses,

3. second-degree manslaughter,

4. first-degree criminal tampering (tampering with public utilities to interrupt or impair service), and

5. attempt or conspiracy to commit any of these crimes.

This crime is punishable as a class D violent felony with two to seven years in prison. It is not a defense if the defendant did not have the intent or capability of committing the offense or that the threat was not made to the person who was a subject of the threat (2001 Chapter 300, NY Penal Law § 490. 20).

Falsely Reporting an Incident

In New York, a person commits the crime of falsely reporting an incident in the third degree if, knowing the information is false, he:

1. reports or warns of a crime, catastrophe, or emergency or that one will occur when it is likely to cause public alarm or inconvenience,

2. reports to an emergency organization a catastrophe or emergency or reports that one will occur, or

3. reports an offense or incident or that one will occur to law enforcement or gives false information relating to an actual offense or incident.

This is a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 50 as amended by 2001 Chapter 301).

A person commits the crime of falsely reporting an incident in the second degree if he falsely (1) reports or warns of a fire, explosion, or release of a hazardous substance (or that one will occur) and it is likely to cause public alarm or inconvenience or (2) reports to an emergency organization a fire, explosion, or release of hazardous substance or that one will occur. It is also a crime if the false report relates to private premises. This is a class E violent felony offense, punishable by one and a half to four years in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 55 as amended by 2001 Chapter 301).

A person commits the crime of falsely reporting an incident in the first degree if he (1) falsely reports or warns of an explosion, release of a hazardous substance, or reports or warns of a fire or impending fire likely to cause public alarm or inconvenience at a sports stadium, mass transportation facility, enclosed shopping mall, public place or building, or school grounds when people are likely to be there; (2) commits the second degree crime for the second time; or (3) makes certain types of false warnings covered under the other crimes and an emergency worker or other person is seriously injured or dies. This crime is a class D violent felony offense punishable by two to seven years in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 60 as amended by 2001 Chapter 301).

The law defines a “hazardous substance” as a physical, chemical, microbiological, or radiological substance or matter that can cause or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or serious irreversible or incapacitating reversible illness, or poses a substantial present or potential hazard to human health (NY Penal Law § 240. 00).

Placing a False Bomb

In New York, a person commits the crime of placing a false bomb in the second degree if he (1) places or causes placement of an object that appears to be or to contain an explosive but is an inoperative imitation of one; (2) he knows, intends, or reasonably believes that the object will appear as a bomb; and (3) under the circumstances it will likely cause public alarm or inconvenience. This is a class E violent felony offense punishable by one and a half to four years in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 61 as amended by 2001 Chapter 301).

In New York, a person commits the crime of placing a false bomb in the first degree if he places a false bomb on school grounds or in public buildings or public places. This is a class D violent felony offense, punishable by two to seven years in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 62 as amended by 2001 Chapter 301).

In New York, placing a false bomb in a sports stadium or arena, mass transportation facility, or enclosed shopping mall is class D violent felony offense, punishable by two to seven years in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 63 as amended by 2001 Chapter 301).

Other Laws

New York law does not specifically address placing false items other than bombs, such as false chemical or biological weapons. But it appears that this conduct could be punished under general criminal laws.

The crime of criminal nuisance in the second degree punishes knowingly or recklessly creating or maintaining a condition that endangers the safety or health of a considerable number of people. This crime is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 45). The disorderly conduct statute punishes creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk of it. This is a violation, punishable by up to 15 days in prison (NY Penal Law § 240. 20). Harassment in the second degree also punishes conduct or acts that alarm or seriously annoy a person when done with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm. This is a violation (NY Penal Law § 240. 26).

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