Many in Cranford are likely familiar with the old saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Harassing and threatening language may, however, leave one facing criminal charges due to New Jersey’s terroristic threats statute. The issue in arresting and charging one for making threats may come down to a simple question of delivery, which prompts the question of what matters most: the intent of the speaker, or the interpretation of the audience?
According to Section 2C.12-3 of The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, it often is the latter. This law states that one has spoken terroristic threats if his or her language is meant to terrorize another ort to cause the evacuation of any of the following public venues:
- A building
- A place of assembly
- A facility of public transportation
Such threats are considered to be a third-degree crime in New Jersey, as are threats to kill another person perceived by said person to be legitimate enough for him or her to be concerned for his or her immediate safety. The aforementioned offenses are upgraded to a second-degree crime if they are done during a declared period of national, state or county emergency.
To qualify as having made terroristic threats, however, it must be demonstrated that one intended to cause a serious public inconvenience or demonstrated a reckless disregard of this risks his or her actions posed. Thus, an element of intent typically must be present to qualify threats as criminal action. Such threats must be directed, as well. A 2011 New Jersey state appellate court ruling stated that in cases where potentially threatening language is directed at multiple people, it is difficult to consider such action as a threat given that its target cannot be traced to a single person.