February 3, 2010
CRIMINAL THREATENING AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
By: Emilee Mooney Scott, Legislative Fellow
You asked whether other states have criminal threatening statutes specific to domestic violence cases.
Many states, including Connecticut, have statutes criminalizing terroristic threats (see CGS § 53a-61aa). Some states, including Connecticut, have more general criminal threatening statutes which may be applied in domestic violence cases (see CGS § 53a-62). In addition, Connecticut defines “family violence” to include threatened violence which instills fear of “imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault between family or household members” (CGS § 46b-38a(1)). Therefore, certain threats constitute family violence, and may be treated as such in criminal records and crime statistics, and for the purposes of family violence prevention programs. For further detail on Connecticut's laws concerning family violence, see OLR Report 2009-R-0349.
Based on a cursory Lexis search of threatening statutes, it appears that only Maine and Ohio have statutes which specifically criminalize threats in the domestic violence context.
A person “is guilty of criminal threatening if he [or she] intentionally or knowingly places another person in fear of imminent bodily injury” (17-A MRS § 209). A person is guilty of “domestic violence criminal threatening” if he or she violates § 209 and the victim is a family or household member (17-A MRS § 209-A, with “family or household member” defined in 19-A MRS § 4002 to include spouses, domestic partners, former spouses or domestic partners, and natural parents of the same child). Maine law authorizes parents and guardians to use “a reasonable degree of force” to discipline children, so it is unlikely that this statute would criminalize threats made in the context of parental discipline (17-A MRS § 106).
Criminal threatening and domestic violence criminal threatening are both Class D crimes, which means that they are punishable by a term of imprisonment of less than one year and a fine of less than $2,000 (17-A MRS §§ 1252(2), 1301(1-A)). Domestic violence criminal threatening is a more serious Class C crime, however, if the offender has one or more prior convictions for domestic violence threatening or other domestic violence-related offenses. These other offenses include domestic violence assault (17-A MRS § 207-A (2009)), domestic violence stalking (17-A MRS § 210-C), and domestic violence reckless conduct (17-A MRS § 211-A). Class C crimes are punishable by imprisonment for a period of less than five years and a fine of less than $5000 (17-A MRS §§ 1252(2), 1301(1-A)). The increase in penalties applies only to domestic violence criminal threatening, not to the more general criminal threatening statute (17-A MRS § 209).
Unlike Maine, Ohio does not appear to have a general criminal threatening statute (there is a statute concerning terroristic threats, ORC Ann. 2909.23). Ohio's domestic violence statute states that “[n]o person, by threat of force, shall knowingly cause a family or household member to believe that the offender will cause imminent physical harm to the family or household member” (ORC Ann. 2919.25(C)). Ohio courts have held that domestic violence statues do not criminalize parental discipline, including threats of violence, unless there is “observable injury” or “risk of serious physical harm” (Ohio v. Adaranijo, 153 Ohio App. 3d 266, 269 (2003)). Therefore, the statue would likely not be held to criminalize threats against children.
The penalties for domestic violence threatening vary according to the offender's number of previous domestic violence convictions (ORC Ann. 2919.25(D)). The first violation of the statute is a misdemeanor in the fourth degree. If “the offender knew that the victim of the violation was pregnant at the time of the violation” the first violation of the statute becomes a misdemeanor in the third degree. If the offender has previously pleaded guilty to or been convicted of one domestic violence offense, a violation of the statute is a misdemeanor in the second degree. If the offender has previously pleaded guilty to or been convicted of two or more domestic violence offenses, it is a misdemeanor in the first degree. The penalties for the various types of misdemeanors vary from imprisonment of not more than 30 days and a fine of not more than $250 for a misdemeanor in the fourth degree to imprisonment of not more than 180 days and a fine of not more than $1000 for a misdemeanor in the first degree (ORC §§ 2929.24, 2929.28).