Aggravated Harassment Arrests: Does a “Conditional Threat” Satisfy the “True Threat” Requirement of NY PL 240.30

While not always a domestic crime or family offense, arrests for Second Degree Aggravated Harassment in New York are fairly common in the marital, parent-child and intimate partner context. However, whether the partners have a sexual, physical or familial relationship is of no consequence. Business partners, friends and acquaintances can all run afoul of New York Penal Law 240.30. Simply, the relationship between the parties is fairly irrelevant.

If the nature of the relationship is irrelevant in a Second Degree Aggravated Harassment prosecution, what about how a threat is made? Does a clearly bogus threat violate the law irrespective of whomever the recipient may be? What about a joking threat? For that matter, what constitutes a “true threat?” This blog entry will not merely address this last question, but briefly examine whether a conditional threat is the same as a true threat for the purpose of PL 240.30.

In People v. Slawomir, 2017 NY Slip Op 27335 (Crim. Ct. NY County), the defendant argued that because he conditioned his threat on the complainant exposing his infidelity, the threat was not genuine or true because if the complainant abided by the defendant’s request, she would see no harm. Makes sorta’ sense, right? Not so fast…

Despite the defendant’s argument, the Court duly noted that “[w]hile the use of the word ‘conditional’ in the true threat cases is sometimes misleading….it is clear that occurrence of an upcoming event before the threat can be fulfilled will not, by itself, prevent its prosecution. It is only when the words convey a threat so remote, preposterous or humanly impossible that they should be said, on their face, to be outside the potential realm of prosecution as true threats.” People v. Prizinzano, 170 Misc.2d 525, 537 (Crim. Ct. NY County 1996).

Addressing the issue of a conditional threat further, the Court looked to an objective person test. The question is whether ‘an ordinary, reasonable recipient who is familiar with the content of the [communication] would interpret it as a threat of injury.”

At bottom, a conditional threat may in fact not be a true threat depending on the nature of the words and the reality of an event or action ever taking place. It is one thing to say that you will kill person X if they eat every Oreo at ShopRite and another if you threaten the same if the recipient of your words ever mentions that you stole money from a local merchant. Context, among other things, is not just critical, but reviewed in a case by case analysis.

To learn more about the class “A” misdemeanor of Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree, review the numerous entries in this blog or follow the highlighted links.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors. The New York criminal lawyers at Crotty Saland PC represent clients throughout the New York City and Hudson Valley region.

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