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A death threat is a threat, often made anonymously, by one person or a group of people to kill another person or groups of people. These threats are often designed to intimidate victims in order to manipulate their behavior, thus a death threat can be a form of coercion. For example, a death threat could be used to dissuade a public figure from pursuing a criminal investigation or an advocacy campaign.
A person commits the crime of coercion if the person compels another to engage in conduct from which there is a legal right to abstain or abstain from conduct in which there is a legal right to engage, by means of instilling in the person who is compelled a fear that, if the demand is not complied with, the person who makes the demand or another may inflict physical injury on anyone....
A death threat can be communicated via a wide range of media, among these letters, newspaper publications, telephone calls, internet blogs, and e-mail. If the threat is made against a political figure, it can also be considered treason. If a threat is against a non-living location that frequently contains living individuals (e.g. a building), it could be a terrorist threat. Sometimes, death threats are part of a wider campaign of abuse targeting a person or a group of people (see terrorism, mass murder).
Here is an example of an actual death threat, from the book Wordcrime by John Olsson. This is a genuine example from a criminal case, provided by the Forensic Linguistics Institute, which analyzes all kinds of text, including traditional letters, ransoms, hate mail, various texts via mobile phones; SMS devices, etc., for authorship:
Boris: I am one of the 4 employees still in the office. I have withheld my identity because I have realised that nothing is a secret any more, the author of the anonymous doc is now a public information. I write as a matter of genuine concern. We in the office are convinced that there is a real threat at your life, some mysterious people are looking for you (different people at different times). They are not genuine people. The cops are also looking for you, they say they want to return you to court, they look like there is more than meets the eye or more that we know of. regards
Death threats against a head of state
In some monarchies and republics, both democratic and authoritarian, threatening to kill the head of state and/or head of government (such as the sovereign, president, or prime minister) is considered a crime for which punishments vary. US law provides for up to 5 years in prison for threatening the President of the United States. In the United Kingdom, under the Treason Felony Act 1848, it is illegal to attempt to kill or deprive the monarch of his/her throne; this offense was originally punished with penal transportation and then was changed to the death penalty and currently the penalty is life imprisonment.
Osman warning, letter or notice
Named after a high-profile case, Osman v United Kingdom, these are warnings of death threat or high risk of murder that are issued by British police or legal authorities to the expected victim. They are used when there is intelligence of the threat, but there is not enough evidence to justify the police arresting the expected murderer.
- Alaska Statute 11.41.530(a)(1)
- Blog death threats spark debate BBC News retrieved September 30, 2007
- "Dad's death threat warning". The Scottish Sun. 2009-01-27. Retrieved 2012-04-29.
- Published on Friday 13 June 2008 17:49 (2008-06-13). "Beds is one of nation's 'death-threat capitals' - News". Bedford Today. Retrieved 2012-04-29.