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Assault By Fear

Free speech protections under the First Amendment are vast. But you cannot say anything you want to without running the risk of legal trouble. Heated arguments, yelling profanities at someone, and even joking around can amount to crimes in Minnesota.

For example, you discover evidence of infidelity on your girlfriend’s phone. In a fury of rage, you do your best Rob Gronkowski touchdown celebration impression and spike her phone on the bathroom tile floor. Then, you point your finger at her and yell “I’m going to kill you!” Crime? Yes. An Assault in Minnesota does not have to involve a physical act of touching another person. An Assault can occur when someone commits an act with intent to cause fear of immediate bodily harm or death in another, which is often referred to as Assault by Fear.[1]

Another scenario: there is a prankster at work. He loves to wrap your entire chair in plastic while you are out to lunch. He put a picture of the Jonas Brothers in your picture frame that normally displays you with your boyfriend in front of the Eiffel Tower. He changes your desktop wallpaper when you forget to lock your computer. You get the point.

But one time, the jokester goes too far. While wearing a kabuki mask, he jumps into your cubicle while holding a replica handgun and yells “get on the floor!” Bad joke? Definitely. Crime? Quite Possibly. Threats of Violence – Display Replica Firearm, which is commonly known as Terroristic Threats happens when a person displays, exhibits, or brandishes a replica firearm or BB gun by either (1) causing or attempting to cause terror in another; or (2) acting in reckless disregard of the risk of causing terror in another.[2]

Terroristic Threats also occur when someone threatens to commit a violent crime with the purpose of terrorizing another.[3] For example, put the Rob Gronkowski-phone-spike hypothetical above on steroids – repeated threats of violence, slashing tires, leaving death threats, etc. Terroristic threats also include bomb threats or persuading someone to call in such a threat.[4]

Tone down Terroristic Threats, or Assault by Fear, and you likely get Disorderly Conduct. Prosecutors often charge Disorderly Conduct for a wide range of behavior. While still a misdemeanor offense, Disorderly Conduct sounds better than Assault and often excludes facts of striking someone or threating violence. There is a provision of Disorderly Conduct that includes brawling or fighting, however, which includes situations where police respond to a large group of people engaged in a melee, such as a bar fight.[5] Other examples of Disorderly Conduct include getting in a heated argument in a public, or even private, place, yelling profanities and using obscene language.[6]

Bottom line: watch your mouth, boy! What you say can get you in trouble, even if you are joking around, engaging in a heated exchange of words, or talking like a drunken sailor in the wrong setting. Terroristic Threats is a felony offense. Persuading someone to call in a bomb threat and displaying a replica firearm in a threatening manner are gross misdemeanors. While Disorderly Conduct and Assault by Fear are misdemeanors, Assault by Fear and Domestic Assault by Fear can become gross misdemeanors or felonies depending on any prior qualified domestic-violence related conviction. Assaults also can trigger the loss of your gun rights depending on the resolution of your case.

Robert H. Ambrose is a criminal defense attorney based in Minneapolis. He represents clients charged with crimes such as Domestic Assault by Fear, Terroristic Threats, and other speaking crimes. If you, or someone you know, is facing criminal charges, contact our office for a free consultation at 612-547-3199 or ambroselegal@icloud.com.   

[1] Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subd. 1(2); Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1(2)

[2] Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 3

[3] Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 1

[4] Minn. Stat. § 609.713, subd. 2

[5] Minn. Stat. § 609.72, subd. 1(1)

[6] The technical definition of the most commonly used Disorderly Conduct charge is when someone: “engages in offensive, obscene, abusive, boisterous, or noisy conduct or in offensive, obscene, or abusive language tending reasonably to arouse alarm, anger, or resentment in others.” (Minn. Stat. 609.72, subd. 1(3)).

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