THREATS OF VIOLENCE: STATUTE PUNISHES ONLY TRUE THREATS, DOES NOT REQUIRE SPECIFIC INTENT TO THREATEN, AND DOES NOT VIOLATE THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Appellant was charged with four counts of threats of violence after leaving an envelope at the Child Protection Services offices. The envelope contained a letter and four morgue toe tags, each containing the handwritten name of a different person associated with Appellant’s child protection matter, as well as addresses for “place of death,” “TBD” for “date of death,” dates of birth, and insulting names. All four named individuals subsequently changed their daily routines and took safety precautions. The district court denied Appellant’s First Amendment challenge to the threats of violence statute and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1, makes it a crime to “threaten[], directly or indirectly, to commit any crime of violence with purpose to terrorize another… or in a reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror.” Appellant challenges the italicized portion of the statute. “Reckless” in this context has not been previously defined. The Supreme Court concludes that a person acts recklessly under section 609.713, subd. 1, when he or she consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his or her words will cause terror in another and he or she acts in conscious disregard of that risk.

True threats are not protected under the First Amendment, so the court considers whether section 609.713, subd. 1, prohibits only true threats or whether it reaches other forms of protected speech. Consistent with the majority of courts to have considered the issue, the court finds that a specific intent to threaten the victim is not required for violent speech or expressive conduct to be a true threat. Thus, the court finds that a reckless state of mind is sufficient for a defendant’s violent communication to be a true threat excluded from the protection of the First Amendment.

The court further holds that section 609.713, subd. 1, punishes only reckless speech that is a true threat, given the various safeguards embedded in the statute and caselaw interpreting the statute. As such, the statute is not facially overbroad and does not violate the First Amendment. State v. Mrozinski, 971 N.W.2d 233 (Minn. Mar. 9, 2022).

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