ⓘ Death threat

Death threat

ⓘ Death threat

A death threat is a threat, often made anonymously, by one person or a group of people to kill another person or group of people. These threats are often designed to intimidate victims in order to manipulate their behaviour, and 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.

In most jurisdictions, death threats are a serious type of criminal offence. Death threats are often covered by coercion statutes. For instance, the coercion statute in Alaska says:

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.


1. Methods

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.


2. 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, is considered a crime, for which punishments vary. The United States law provides for up to five years in prison for threatening any type of government official. 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.


3. 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 possible victim. They are used when there is intelligence of the threat, but there is not enough evidence to justify the police arresting the potential murderer.

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