Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Threat Definition:

A menace designed to intimidate the person on whom it is directed to take some action, and which carries with it some sanction if not performed.

Related Terms: Intimidation

In Hadley v State, a 1990 case published by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama, Justice McMillan wrote:

"The term threat... in criminal law is a menace or declaration of one's purpose or intention toward injury to the person, property, or rights of another, by commission of an unlawful act. A threat can include almost any kind of an expression of intent by one person to do an act against another person, ordinarily indicating an intention to do harm. Moreover, a threat generally includes any menace that would serve to unsettle the mind of the person on whom it operates and to take away from his acts the free and voluntary action which constitutes consent."

Similarly, these  words of Justice Armstrong of the Court of Appeals of Oregon in Osborne v Williams (aka Osborne v Fadden):

"A threat instills in the addressee a fear of imminent and serious personal violence from the speaker, is unequivocal, and is objectively likely to be followed by unlawful acts.

"That definition excludes the kind of hyperbole, rhetorical excesses, and impotent expressions of anger or frustration that in some contexts can be privileged even if they alarm the addressee."

threat ransom noteIn Barrow v Bowron, Justice Wood wrote of threat as standing:

" ... in intimate connection (with the) acts of violence to the property or persons of another ... by acts or words of doing some injury to another person."

In Allen v Flood, Justice Herschell described a threat as:

"... pressure, or perhaps extreme pressure, on the person to whom it is addressed to take a particular course."

In 1920, Justice Paterson used these words in Hodges v Webb:

"A threat is only an intimation by one to another that unless the latter does or does not do something, the former will do something which the latter will not like."

In R v Keegstra, Justice McLachlin, (dissenting but with justices La Forest and Sopinka concurring), relied on this definition of a threat:

"Any menace of such a nature and extent as to unsettle the mind of the person on whom it operates, and to take away from his acts that free voluntary action which alone constitutes consent."

In R. v. Shell Canada Products Ltd., Justice Kennedy of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench wrote, at ¶38:

"In ordinary language, the word threat is easily understood. It is an urged course of action which carries with it some sanction or penalty if not carried out. It is a form of intimidation, fulmination, harassment or warning which carries with it some form of penalty."

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