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Limits on Freedom of Speech: Communicating Threats

Freedom of Speech & NFL Star Earl Smith

Freedom of speech is a huge topic of conversation right now. Stories of politicians, celebrities, and other high-profile individuals and entities exercising their freedom of expression often make national headlines because of the nature of their speech. Although the First Amendment of the US Constitution prevents the government from limiting free speech, as well as the press, peaceful assembly, and religion, there are some exceptions to this legal right.

Remember, only the government is prohibited from banning certain forms of speech, not private citizens or companies. Speech that is not protected under the First Amendment and thus enforceable by the government includes hate speech, threats, and speech that incites violence. With this in mind, it makes sense that communicating threats is a criminal offense in North Carolina. Communicating threats occurs when:

  • a person willfully threatens to physically injure someone or their child, spouse, sibling, or dependent or willfully threatens to damage another person’s property
  • that threat is communicated to the other person, whether it be orally, in writing, or by another means
  • the threat is made in a way that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the threat is likely to be carried out
  • the person threatened believes that the threat will be carried out

This offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a fine to be determined by the judge. Not to mention, it will appear on your criminal record and background checks, which carries personal and professional consequences as a result.

Earl Smith’s Restraining Order for Communicating Threats

To give a relevant example of communicating threats, the wife of recently former Baltimore Raven player Earl Smith sought a restraining order against her husband. She alleged, " [Smith] threatened to come back to my parents' house, to burn all of my things if I came back to our house in Austin, and to kick my 'ass.’” Because Smith’s wife alleged that the incident happened in the past, Smith knew where her parents lived, and he had a history of violence, a court may reasonably believe her allegations about Smith are true.

Threatening any person can not only warrant a restraining order but also criminal charges. If you have been charged with communicating threats, give us a call today at (704) 288-1003 for a free consultation. Oakhurst Legal Group is here to help you.

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