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94 Mich. L. Rev. 1067 (1995-1996)
Are Threats Always Violent Crimes

handle is hein.journals/mlr94 and id is 1087 raw text is: Are Threats Always Violent Crimes?
Jeremy D. Feinstein
You are enjoying a quiet evening at home in Michigan when you
receive a phone call. An unfamiliar voice says, I know where you
live, and I'm coming to kill you. Upset by this incident, you report
it to the police. A short time later the police tell you that they have
traced the call and identified the perpetrator: a patient confined to
a mental hospital in Hawaii, who apparently called your number
either by mistake or at random. The police inform you that even
though the threatener is already committed to a psychiatric facility,
they intend to prosecute him for the crime of making threats.'
Does this threat constitute a violent crime? If not, what if the
threatener had turned out to be a disgruntled former employee of
your company, twice convicted of committing violent crimes, who
lived nearby? In other words, is the answer influenced by the ap-
parent likelihood -      or lack thereof -      of the threat being carried
out? If the Hawaii mental patient's threat is a violent crime, does
this mean that a statement of intent to do something violent is
always an act of violence?
It is important to think about the answers to these questions
because, under the United States Sentencing Guidelines (Guide-
lines),2 the characterization of a crime as violent or non-violent
is significant for a defendant in two ways. First, if a crime is consid-
1. 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) (1994) prohibits any interstate transmission of a threat to kidnap or
injure the person of another. For a discussion of the elements of threat offenses, see infra
Part 1.
Chapter 41 of 18 U.S.C., 18 U.S.C. § 871 et seq. (1994), contains a number of statutes
criminalizing various types of threats. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 871 (1994) (making it a crime to
convey through the mail a threat to kill, injure, or kidnap the President); 18 U.S.C. § 876
(1994) (prohibiting the transmission of threats by mail); 18 U.S.C. § 878 (1994) (prohibiting
threats against foreign officials); 18 U.S.C. § 879 (1994) (prohibiting threats against former
presidents). Courts considering cases brought under one of these statutes usually feel free to
apply precedent from any of the other statutes. See, e.g., United States v. Gordon, 974 F.2d
1110, 1117 (9th Cir. 1992) (looking to 18 U.S.C. § 871 (1982) for guidance even though the
instant case was brought under § 879). Consequently, when this Note refers to punishable
threats, the particular statute under which the threats would be punished is not important.
2. United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual (Nov. 1994). Federal courts
are required to impose sentences within the range stipulated by the Guidelines for a particu-
lar crime, except when unusual aggravating or mitigating circumstances are present. See 18
U.S.C. § 3553(b) (1994).
At the time this issue of the Michigan Law Review went to press - January 1996 - the
revised Guidelines Manual from November 1994 was the latest available edition. The Sen-
tencing Commission customarily revises the Guidelines every November, but the November
1995 revisions were not yet available.


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