In Commonwealth v. Goodness, decided in December of 2017, the Massachusetts Appeals Court provided guidance about the common law crime of threatening. Pursuant to the Criminal Model Jury Instructions, the Commonwealth must prove four things in prosecuting a charge of threatening to commit a crime. Those four things are as follows, namely:

First: That the defendant expressed an intent to injure a person, or property of another, now or in the future;
Second: That the defendant intended that his or her threat be conveyed to a particular person;
Third: That the injury that was threatened, if carried out, would constitute a crime; and
Fourth: That the defendant made the threat under circumstances which could reasonably have caused the person to whom it was conveyed to fear that the defendant had both the intention and the ability to carry out the threat.

The defendant in the Goodness case was charged with threatening to commit murder after he was taken into custody and he told some court officers that, “if this ruins my life, I’m coming back here with a machine gun.” The trial court allowed a defense motion to dismiss the charge, and the government appealed.

In affirming the motion judge’s decision dismissing the charge, the Appeals Court held that the complaint failed to establish probable cause to believe that the defendant had any particular victim in mind, or that he intended for his threat to be communicated to anyone. To commit the crime of threatening, said the Court, the defendant’s words “must first be communicated in some manner to the defendant’s intended victim, directly or through an intermediary.”

The government argued that a threat to the occupants of the court house could be inferred from the defendant’s statements, but the Court rejected that argument, finding that “the only reasonable inference is that the defendant’s outbursts were an expression of anger over his arrest rather than a true threat directed at any particular person.”

The decision was issued pursuant to Appeals Court Rule 1:28, which means that it can be cited for its persuasive value, but not as binding precedent.

If you have been charged with threatening to commit a crime, you should consider retaining an attorney to explore whether you have a defense based on the foregoing, or another viable defense.

Kevin D. Quinlan
2 South Main Street, Suite 201
P.O. Box 248
Uxbridge, MA 01569
(508) 723-6384