Threatening To Commit A Crime Conviction Reversed By Massachusetts Appeals Court

Today, in a published opinion the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed a conviction for threatening to commit a crime in violation of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 275 Section 2 citing insufficient evidence.  See Commonwealth v. James, slip opinion December 18, 2008.  The Appeals Court reported the following facts: 

1.  That in December 2006 the defendant was serving a sentence in the Suffolk County House of Correction.

2.  During a search of his cell prison authorities found letters that the defendant had written to another inmate in which the defendant asked this inmate to kill a woman whom he had dated prior to his incarceration.  Apparently, during his incarceration this woman ended the relationship.  The defendant believed it had something to do with her seeing another man. 

3.  In one of the letters the defendant wrote that he wanted the woman shot in the stomach, chest or head, that he wanted her in critical and that he would kill her himself.  In another letter he against wrote that he wanted her shot in the chest or stomach, and that he wanted the place checked out in advance.

4.  In a tape recorded the defendant admitted to writing the letters but that he did so in a passing moment of anger and that he never intended for anyone to follow up on the threats.

5.  The threats were communicated to the woman through law enforcement officials. 

A jury sitting in the Boston Municipal Court convicted the defendant.  Reversing the conviction the Appeals Court held that to sustain a conviction under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 275 Section 2 the prosecution must prove that the defendant had the intention to inflict a crime on another and an ability to do so in circumstances that would justify apprehension on the part of the recipient.  Menacing words alone, or even those that express a threat to commit a crime do not satisfy the prosecution’s burden to sustain a conviction under this statute.  The prosecution must also prove that the threat was communicated in some manner to the defendant’s intended victim, either directly or through an intermediary.  Mere proof that threatening words their target will not suffice to satisfy the government’s burden under this statute. 


For over 20 years our office has represented people charged with all types of crimes in Massachusetts.  Threatening to commit a crime is commonly charged in Massachusetts District Court.  The punishment for a conviction of this offense is a maximum of 6 months in the house of correction.  All too often these charges are taken lightly by defense attorneys and defendants, primarily due to the fact that the crime is a misdemeanor and rarely tried to a jury.  Prosecutors usually offer seemingly benign dispositions to encourage defendants to plead out to this crime.  However, as you can see from the facts of this case, absent a direct threat to the victim these cases are difficult to prove.  If you have been charged with a crime such as this please contact our office, Boston Criminal Defense Lawyers now.  We are ready to fight for your rights and to defend you against any allegations.