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criminal threats

Is It a Crime to Mail White Powder Even If It’s Harmless?

You can never be too careful, opening your mail. Sure, much of it is junk and some of it may include requests for money from your long lost third cousin you never knew you had. But the U.S. Postal Service delivers 506.4 million pieces of mail each day, sent by and to people of all walks of life. So some crazy stuff can get sent through the mail. Including stuff sent by crazy people, like ricin, anthrax, narcotics ... and corn starch, as Donald Trump Jr.'s wife has recently discovered. What Can't Be Mailed? It's (obviously) a crime to mail deadly chemical and biological weapons to people. And using the postal service to commit a crime -- any crime -- is never smart. It is the federal mail, and doing it across state lines can make it an interstate crime. That can land you in federal court facing federal charges. The postal service also has detailed regulations on what and how to mail stuff. Explosives, ammunition, gasoline, and air bags are prohibited. Other items are restricted, and may have to be clearly marked or shipped in limited quantities. These include firearms, propane, alcohol, and prescription drugs. What About Threatening or Suspicious Letters? Threatening, disturbing letters sent through the mail can constitute criminal threats, terroristic threats, stalking, and similar crimes related to making threats. That's the kind of behavior lower-level criminal offenses are designed for, to stop someone before threats become attacks, and are illegal under state laws. Federal crimes cover some specific threats, such a threatening the President or other officials. What About Harmless, Suspicious White Powder? Turns out, there's a handy federal offense covering this sort of thing. 18 U.S.C. section 1038 makes it a crime to "engag[e] in any conduct with intent to convey false or misleading information [that] may reasonably be believed [to indicate] that" a biological agent is present. It also makes doing so a civil action, i.e. allows someone to sue. Which is lawyer-talk for: no, you can't send threatening letters and add sugar, flour -- or corn starch -- to make it legal. Related Resources Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) USPS Logs Mail for FBI, and It's Legal (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life) Is It Legal to Mail Marijuana? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Man Pleads Guilty to Harassing LA Islamic Center on Social Media

Mark Feigin wasn't shy about his views. According to CNN, the real estate agent and Uber driver admittedly has 'a big mouth' and strong views on Islam, telling investigators that he wasn't 'really a fan of Islam. I don't like their views.' He freely posted those views on the Facebook page of the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles back in September of 2016. Those comments, along with a mysterious, threatening phone call, launched a hate crimes investigation that pleaded out last week. It's a tale with some intrigue offering a look at social media harassment and the law. Facebook Threats and Felony Charges The case arose after a call placed to the Islamic Center purportedly threatened to "annihilate Muslims." When an employee reported the threat to police, it didn't take long for them to suspect Feigin based on comments he'd left on the center's Facebook page. The California Attorney General's Office charged Feigin with felony criminal threats; but while investigation confirmed Feigin's views, connecting him to the threatening phone call proved elusive. Feigin pleaded guilty to making harassing electronic communications and another misdemeanor, avoiding a more serious felony charge of making criminal threats. By pleading guilty, Fagan's conviction for harassment rests on his admission. When Is Social Media Harassment a Crime? There's a line to be crossed online, just as there is in person or over the phone. California law prohibits a person from "willfully threaten[ing] to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person by means of an electronic communication device." That includes your phone, tablet, or computer. While opinions can spark a social media firestorm, mere opinions (even reprehensible ones) are different from threatening a person with harm. Contact law enforcement if you believe the line's been crossed and a threat made against you. Related Resources Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Cyber Crimes (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Teens Arrested for Facebook Death Threats (FindLaw's Blotter)
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Is It Illegal to Threaten Someone Online?

Since the assimilation of social media into everyday life became nearly unavoidable, lawmakers have been working to strengthen the laws prohibiting cyberbullying, cybercrime, and online threats. Potentially in spite of the Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that reversed the conviction of a man who posted his own original rap lyrics about his fantasy of killing his wife on social media, state's around the country continue to embrace new laws that create for a safer, less hostile online environment. The Supreme Court's stance on online threats seems to land more in favor of characterizing even the most despicable speech as protected under the first amendment. Despite the Supreme Court's stance that the online harasser's intent matters, states can still regulate and prosecute people they believe have made credible online threats. Context Matters When it comes to evaluating whether an online threat is illegal or not, the context is highly relevant. If the threat is clearly made in a way that makes it appear to be a joke, satirical, or sarcastic, then it probably won't be considered a threat. However, if the language appears to be serious, then it must be looked at more closely to determine whether it is legal or not. Also, context changes with the times. When a recent school shooting is still fresh in the news, making a joke about it, while you may think it's just in poor taste, could very well be viewed by others as a threat, and that can get you arrested. What Makes an Online Threat Illegal? While some states don't have specific laws about online threats, all have laws against making criminal threats and bullying. Determining which online threats are illegal requires looking at the individual characteristics of each threat. If an online threat would rise to the same level as an in-person, or telephonic, criminal threat, then the online threat will likely be considered illegal. Usual considerations include: Who the threat is directed to? What is being threatened? Who is making the threat? Is the threat credible? What did the speaker really mean or intend? If the threat is directed at a specific person, with a specific threat of harm, from an easily identifiable source, and appears credible, it is likely the threat will be considered illegal. When the threat does not target an easily identifiable person or group, or does not specify a type of harm, or is just terminally vague (i.e. "Chicago Cubs fans are going to get it"), this is not likely to rise to the level of a criminal threat. However, as the 2014 Supreme Court decision advised, a speaker's intent can make all the difference in determining whether a post is considered a threat or protected expression. Related Resources: Find Criminal Defense Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) What Is Cyberbullying? (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Top 7 Internet Crime Questions (FindLaw's Blotter) Specific State Laws Against Bullying (FindLaw's Learn About the Law) Shooting at George Zimmerman Illegal, Florida Man Learns (FindLaw's Blotter)
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