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Court of Appeals Upholds Felony Terroristic Threat Conviction for Whispered Statement to Child

15 Aug

In State v. Hershbergeran unpublished opinion released on August 9, 2012, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld, among other things, a defendant’s conviction for felony terroristic threats for whispering in the ear of a child that she and her siblings would “have to pay for what [they] did to him.”

The defendant in the case, Tim Hershberger, had previously been convicted of gross-misdemeanor malicious punishment of the children in question, and the court reasoned that, “Given the relationship history and [the child’s] age of eight, it was reasonable for her to interpret Hershberger’s statement as a threat to commit great bodily harm, and Hershberger acted, if not with the purpose of causing such terror, at least in reckless disregard of doing so.”

Under Minn. Stat. § 609.713, “Whoever threatens, 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” is guilty of terroristic threats, and to convict on a charge of felony terroristic threats, a jury must find that the defendant threatened “a specific predicate crime of violence,” as listed in Minn. Stat. § 609.1095.

Essentially, the jury, and subsequently the Court of Appeals, found that Hershberger’s whispered words were a threat of a “a specific predicate crime of violence,” namely first-degree assault. Hershberger’s only statements cited in the opinion came from the child’s testimony at trial that Hershberger whispered a statement to her, “saying we have to pay for what we did to him.”

The opinion does not address any First Amendment concerns with the conviction or Minnesota’s terroristic threats statute, neither does it reference any U.S. Supreme Court precedence regarding the Constitutional limitations on criminally actionable threats.

Hershberger was also convicted of felony stalking with intent to injure, and stalking by return to property without consent.

 

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