A threat to a judge is a felony in Wisconsin. While normally threatening a non-judge qualifies as disorderly conduct (a Class B misdemeanor), this charge is punishable as a Class H felony. Class H felonies in Wisconsin carry a maximum penalty of 6 years in prison, $10,000.00 in fines, or both. This is obviously a serious charge, with serious penalties, that requires serious attention. Hiring experienced criminal defense counsel is incredibly important when facing a charge such as this.
One of the biggest issues you’ll face is that the alleged threat involved a judge. While that judge will not hear your case, another judge will. The inherent problem is that the alleged victim and the person determining your punishment (only if you’re convicted, of course) are in the same position. Clearly it’s also important that we handle a situation like this very carefully.
At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., you’ll meet some of Wisconsin’s top-rated criminal defense attorneys. All of our criminal defense attorneys have pre-trial motion, trial, and appeal experience. We recognize the importance of the situation you’re dealing with, and we want to help. Finally, we offer free consultations to potential clients – just give us a call at (414) 270-0202 and let’s figure out where we can start.
Section 940.203(2) of the Wisconsin Statutes provides us the law dealing with threatening a judge. If you’re a regular reader of our website, or if you’re familiar with the statutes, you’ll notice that this is the same law that prohibits battery to a judge. It indicates:
(2) Whoever intentionally causes bodily harm or threatens to cause bodily harm to the person or family member of any judge, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer under all of the following circumstances is guilty of a Class H felony:(a) At the time of the act or threat, the actor knows or should have known that the victim is a judge, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer or a member of the judge’s, prosecutor’s, or law enforcement officer’s family.(b) The act or threat is in response to any action taken by a judge, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer in an official capacity.(c) There is no consent by the person harmed or threatened.
A few things become immediately clear reading the statute. First, the threat involved must be “in response to any action taken ” by the judge, while the judge is acting “in an official capacity.” For example, let’s consider a sentencing hearing. If the defendant is upset with the result of that sentencing, and threatens the judge because of that sentencing, this action likely fits the statute. If the defendant simply threatens his neighbor, who happens to be a judge, over something unrelated to the law, this section does not apply.
Jury instructions accompany most criminal statutes in Wisconsin. These instructions break down crimes into small parts, or elements. At trial, these elements are what the jury uses to determine whether the government has satisfied its burden of proof. If the government cannot prove an element beyond a reasonable doubt, the whole charge fails to satisfy the burden.
Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1240B indicates:
The jury instructions provide certain important definitions regarding the word threat: A “threat” is an expression of intention to do harm and may be communicated orally, in writing, or by conduct. This element requires a true threat. “True threat” means that a reasonable person making the threat would foresee that a reasonable person would interpret the threat as a serious expression of intent to do harm. It is not necessary that the person making the threat have the ability to carry out the threat. You must consider all the circumstances in determining whether a threat is a true threat.
Most threatening judge cases likely occur while in court. And when the defendant is interacting with the judge, sometimes the actions occur while the court is in session and on the record. When that happens, a first important step is to pull the transcript from that hearing. If an actual recording of proceedings exists, reviewing that is also important. What did the defendant actually say?
And did those words constitute a “true threat”? Being upset and swearing at the judge, while certainly looked down upon, don’t constitute an actual threat (this does not mean these actions are not other crimes). Saying something like “I’m going to beat you up” without further clarification also seems to be lacking a bit when it comes to the definition of “true threat.”
It’s important to remember that many of these issues are trial issues. When we’re arguing over the satisfaction of elements alone, there is usually no motion to file. Instead, it’s an issue that we argue about in front of the jury. Again, if the government cannot satisfy an element, they cannot sustain a conviction against you.
Finally, our criminal defense attorneys regularly file pre-trial motions contesting illegal police actions. Did the threat occur online? If so, there are likely subpoenas and search warrants involved. Reviewing those for errors could lead to a basis for filing a motion in your case.
When facing serious criminal charges, hiring a top criminal defense attorney is important. Charges involving judges require careful attention to detail. Taking the wrong steps could quickly result in a poor conclusion in your case. Our Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers have defended thousands of cases that require the kind of attention your case likely requires.
Contact us immediately at (414) 270-0202 to set up a free initial consultation. We’ll sit down with you, discuss your case, and figure out whether your path forward includes our firm.