Under what circumstances is threatening someone's life be illegal?

Obviously, I know about “terroristic threatening” and stalking laws, but I was thinking of more of a situation like this: you get into a car accident, and the other driver is a ranting looney, insisting you caused the accident (which you did not). The police are called, and they determine that it’s the other driver’s fault. The other driver goes nuts, pointing at you and yelling, in the presence of the cops, “I’ll kill you! I promise! I will find out where you live and I will shoot you dead! Count on it!” (Or something along those lines.)

Is there anything the cops can do at that point, arrest-wise? Could he be charged with anything? If you insist they do something to protect you, CAN they, apart from helping you get a restraining order and stuff like that?

I’m pretty sure that threatening to physically harm someone is covered under assault of one sort or another.

I would think he could be arrested for making terroristic threats.

That’s assault. Battery is when they actually try to kill you (and of course murder is when they do :D).

Technically, I think if they actually kill you it’s homicide. It may or may not be murder.

This is not intended to be legal advice. This is information for purposes of discussion only. This is not intended to create any type of attorney-client relationship, etc., etc…

As others have pointed out, this is obviously assault. There are certain criteria to meet for assault. The laws vary from state to state, but usually they fall in two types (for what I like to call the miss and the not-miss):

  1. This is commonly used where the Defendant misses the Plaintiff/Victim
  • Defendant acts with intent to cause a harmful or offensive contact with plaintiff; AND
  • Plaintiff is put in reasonable fear or apprehension of such imminent contact
  1. This is commonly used where the Defendant does not intend to hit Plaintiff, but to scare (cause reasonable fear or apprehension) them instead:
  • Defendant acts with intent to put plaintiff in fear or apprehension of harmful or offensive contact; AND
  • Plaintiff is actually put in such fear (though defendant never intended any actual contact).

As it appears, the underlying element for a successful cause of action is if the plaintiff/victim (as in a criminal trial, it is the state who brings forth the charge) has actually felt fear (reasonably, or apprehension of a harmful or offensive touching).

Mike Tyson can be a victim of assault from a someone as timid as a blind 80-year old lady. I used to read law school problems like this all day.

When it actually comes down to protection, I never worked a case like that, but I’m sure there is a heightened level of criteria one has to meet. Police resources are very limited, reserved for the more famous/important citizenry (key witnesses to a crime, foreign diplomats, etc.).

In MA, during the late 80’s, it was charged towards someone who did this to me as “threatening to commit a crime, specifically murder.” The best part of the story is that he tried to throw a brick through my dorm window, and succeeded in throwing it through his buddy’s window, who was next door to me.

he plead out to a suspended sentance on the basis that he “wanted to be a state trooper” (he was a CJ major).

I still live in fear of being pulled over by Office X of the MA State Police. (ok, not really, as I’ve moved, and my appearance has changed a wee bit since then, I’d just plead ignorance…

Actually, I’m not sure that the situation in the OP would be assault at common law. Common law assault is generally either an attempt to commit a battery or the intentional creation, other than by mere words, of a reasonable apprehension of an imminent battery. The problem here is that the death threat could be construed as “mere words,” since the speaker doesn’t appear to have the ability or intent to currently carry out the threat, and that any apprehension the threatened party is placed under is not imminent, since the speaker is telling him that he intends to find out where he lives and shoot him at some future date. Whether or not something is imminent is a sketchy area, but generally “Imminent means “[n]ear at hand; mediate rather than immediate; close rather than touching; impending; on the point of happening; threatening; menacing; perilous.” Black’s Law Dictionary 750 (6th ed.1990)” The threatener has at least an argument that the threat wasn’t “imminent.”

Many states abrogate the common law here with terroristic threat statutes, but even still imminence is often a requirement. Not only that, but a rash, apparently nonserious outburst threatening to kill someone is sometimes excused: “In order to sustain conviction of threatening to take the life of another, the threat must be seriously made and not merely the outburst of one’s temper in heat of passion, and a rash, inconsiderate threat will not suffice to support a conviction.” Brown v. State, 142 Tex.Crim. 405, 154 S.W.2d 464 (Cr.App. 1941).

Something that does come to mind, though: retaliation. Retaliation, in Texas, doesn’t have the requirement of imminence. It might be possible that a charge of threatening you in retaliation for being a prospective witness or reporting a crime. Unlike terrorist threat, retaliation is always a felony.

Mind you this is all defense attorney-style speculation: what would happen as a practical matter is that the person would be arrested on the spot, and it’s entirely possible, maybe even probable, that a jury would convict him. Any arguments about whether the evidence was legally sufficient to convict him of the crime would then have to be made on appeal. Weird that someone yelling a death threat at you could be a grey area of the law, eh?

Interesting stuff so far!

It sounds like it would vary from state to state whether cops would be able to immediately do something to protect you in my OP’s situation (as opposed to whether he could be convicted if tried later)… Is this true?

(Oh, and as an aside, this really didn’t happen to me - it’s just a hypothetical that came up in my mind when I was musing on the First Amendment and threat laws.)