Is Uttering Threats a Serious Issue?

The Charge of Uttering a Threat Contrary to Section 264.1 of the Criminal Code Is a Serious Concern Whereas a Potential Penalty Upon Conviction Is Up to Five (5) Years In Jail.

Understanding the Criminal Charge of Uttering Threats Including Potential Penalties and Defence Strategies

Uttering Threats Contrary to Section 264.1 of the Criminal Code The criminal offence of uttering threats is a serious matter that may result in imprisonment for a maximum of five (5) years depending upon how the threat was made, who or what the threat was directed towards, and the consequences that occurred, if any, as a result of the uttered threat.  Where a charge of uttering threats is brought, the context of the alleged threat and therefore whether any genuine threat was truly uttered requires careful review.  There are various defence strategies available to defend against an uttering threats charge.

The Law

The conduct that may give rise to an uttering threats charge is prescribed at section 264.1(1) of the Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, wherein it is said:

Uttering threats

264.1 (1) Every one commits an offence who, in any manner, knowingly utters, conveys or causes any person to receive a threat

(a) to cause death or bodily harm to any person;

(b) to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property; or

(c) to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that is the property of any person.

Interestingly, a person may be charged with uttering threats without even uttering the threat directly towards the targeted person.  A threat uttered about a targeted person that is heard by a person other than the targeted person is enough to result in an uttering threats charge.  In fact, the targeted person towards whom the threat was uttered may be without any knowledge whatsoever that a threat was even made.

Potential Penalties

The potential penalties upon conviction on a charge of uttering threats are quite serious.  The potential penalties are dependant upon the nature of the specific threat and are prescribed within section 264.1(2) of the Criminal Code where it is said:


(2) Every one who commits an offence under paragraph (1)(a) is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.


(3) Every one who commits an offence under paragraph (1)(b) or (c)

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Available Defence Strategies

The specific defence strategies that will be available, meaning logically applicable, to the defence of an uttering threats charge will depend upon the specific utterances involved; however, the strategies commonly applicable to an uttering threats charge include:

Innocent Person Accused

Where the Prosecutor of the case is unable to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all of the elements legally required to establish that the uttering of threats occurred, including that the threats were uttered by the person accused, an acquittal of the charges results.  Accordingly, the Prosecutor must be able to prove that, among other things, the accused person is who uttered the threat and that the uttered threat was, by legal definitions, truly a threat.

Absence of Intention

A threat without an intention to threaten is something other than a threat.  For example, the heated and angry statement, "You should just go somewhere and die", may be impolite words and upsetting to the person at whom the words were directed; however, such words likely would be deemed to lack any intent to threaten.  Although the words will likely be viewed as hostile, the words contextually omit anything suggesting an intent to cause harm.  At best, such words are simply a wish or a hope for harm to the person at whom the words are directed; however, uttering a hope or wish for harm is far different, legally, than uttering an intent to cause harm.

Plausible Alternative Meaning

The words uttered within a perceived threat may be capable of an unthreatening interpretation.  For example, the heated and angry statement, "You are gonna get what is coming to you", may be interpreted as a threatening utterance; however, such words may also be little more than an angry wish that karma delivers some random harm in the future.  Similar to the absence of intention defence, where words are uttered as something other than a forewarning that harm is coming via the hands, directly or indirectly, of the accused person, the charge of uttering threats should fail.

The definition of what actually constitutes as an uttered threat requires careful analysis.  Diligent legal counsel will review the, allegedly, threatening words and provide appropriate defence strategy advice to the accused person.

Summary Comment

The charge of uttering threats is quite serious and may involve a penalty of up to five (5) years in jail.  A strong defence strategy to aggressively defend an uttering threats charge is warranted.


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