Fri 03 Mar, 2023 Criminal Defense

Is it a Crime to Threaten Someone?

If you threaten someone, you could be charged with a crime. The specific charges that can be brought by the prosecution are dependent on the nature of the threat. This article discusses the common ways in which threats may be criminally prosecuted in New York.

Criminal threats can include either verbal threats or threats through physical action, such as displaying a weapon.


One of the most common ways in which a threat may be prosecuted is when a person commits Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree, which is a misdemeanor.

Although a person can be charged with Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree for a variety of conduct, most commonly the charge occurs when a person, with intent to harass another person, communicates a threat to cause physical harm to, or unlawfully harm to the property of, another person.

For instance, if a person is in an argument with someone and says, “you better watch out, I’m going to kill you,” then that person could be charged with the crime of Harassment in the Second Degree.

Practically speaking, the prosecution will have to prove that such a threat occurred. Strong evidence would be if the communications were sent over text message or voicemail since such evidence would be objective proof that the threatening conduct occurred. 

To be clear, a witness’ word can be sufficient for a conviction, but if the case is just a “he said, she said” sort of case, then there is arguably no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime occurred. In other words, if the complainant says the threat occurred but the defendant testifies that he did not say such a threat, then the jury will arguably not have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the threat occurred. However, if the complainant has a clean record and the defendant has a verified history of making criminal threats, then the jury may decide that the prosecution has proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

An interesting scenario can occur when a person is dramatic or sarcastic. For instance, a person might regularly text friends and say something like, “OMG I could kill you,” or “if you don’t hang out with me tonight I’m gonna beat you up.” In the right context, such language could be playful and not intimidating. In those scenarios, an experienced lawyer would argue that the defendant didn’t have the necessary intent to harass another person.

A seasoned lawyer can assess the specifics of any case to assess whether the prosecution has a strong case.


A person can be criminally charged with threatening a person even if the threat is non-verbal. Most commonly, non-verbal threats occur when a person displays a weapon. In such cases, the person may be charged under New York’s menacing statutes.

Menacing in the Second Degree is a commonly charged menacing offense. To be convicted of Menacing in the Second Degree, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intentionally placed or attempted to place another person in fear of physical injury, serious physical injury or death by displaying a deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or what appears to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, or other firearms.

For instance, if a person gets into an argument with another person and then lifts up his shirt to show a gun sticking out of his waistband, his conduct, even though non-verbal, could be interpreted as an attempt to place the other person in fear of physical injury or death. In this scenario, the person could be charged with the misdemeanor of Menacing in the Second Degree.

The law surrounding menacing charges can be murky and require an experienced lawyer to analyze the specifics of the case. For example, if a defendant displays a knife because the other person has a knife and looks to be preparing to assault the person, then the defendant’s conduct is arguably justified. In that scenario, the defendant’s attorney could explain the situation to the prosecution in an effort to get a proper outcome for his client.


Although robbery requires more than just a threat, a key component of robbery that separates it from more minor offenses like petit larceny is that a threat occurs.

At a basic level, robbery occurs when a person steals property and, during the course of the stealing, uses or threatens the use of physical force upon another person in order to retain the stolen property.

For instance, if a person goes inside of a department store and steals sunglasses by exiting the store without paying for the sunglasses, then that person commits petit larceny, which is a misdemeanor. Typically, misdemeanor petit larceny charges can be resolved without any sort of jail time as part of the sentence. 

However, if, during the same scenario, store security confronted the person as he was exiting the store, and the person displayed a knife in an effort to exit the store with the stolen property, then that person may face the felony charge of armed robbery. By displaying a knife, the person arguably threatened the use of physical force in order to retain the stolen property. A person may be charged with armed robbery even if he did not pull out the weapon and yield it with his hand, although he may have a decent defense that he did not intentionally display the weapon and therefore the person did not actually threaten the use of physical force.

When a person is charged with armed robbery, the chances of prison time are high. However, sometimes charges are the result of alleged victims lying about what happened. Consequently, if you have been charged with a serious offense like armed robbery, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the allegations to determine whether you have a strong case.

Even if you do not have a strong case, your attorney may be able to work out a deal with the prosecution so that you can avoid a sentence that involves prison. 

Get the Help You Need for NYC Criminal Lawyer Cody Warner

If you’ve been charged with a crime in New York City for threatening someone, contact NYC criminal lawyer Cody Warner for a free consultation. He can assess your case to determine the best path forward.