What is the sentence for uttering threats?

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What is the sentence for uttering threats?

Many times, people who are charged with uttering threats are not found guilty. They may instead beat the charge by being acquitted at trial, or by avoiding trial entirely by convincing a crown prosecutor to drop the charge, either outright or after completing a diversion program. I address these situations in separate FAQs. In this FAQ, I discuss what can happen if you are convicted of uttering threats.

If you are convicted of uttering threats, you can be sentenced for up to five years in prison. However, you may receive no prison time at all. Your sentence will depend on the situation, including the following:

  • Which type of uttering threats charge you receive (threatening death or bodily harm carries a higher maximum sentence than threatening property or an animal).
  • Whether the crown elects by summary or indictment.
  • “Aggravating factors,” which are things about the crime or offender that justify a higher sentence, like an especially graphic or detailed death threat or a related criminal record.
  • “Mitigating factors,” which are things about the crime or offender that justify a lower sentence, like a relatively nonserious threat to property or Gladue factors for an Indigenous offender.

In addition to the sentence you receive, a judge may order you to provide your DNA to be kept in a federal database, and may prohibit you from having weapons, depending on the nature and circumstances of your uttering threats crime.

What is the sentence for uttering a death threat?

The maximum prison sentence for threatening death or bodily harm is five years on indictment and two years less a day on summary conviction. Prison sentences between one and six months are more common. Often, the sentence will involve no jail time at all, and may instead be a conditional discharge, a suspended sentence, a fine, or a conditional sentence. Probation sentences are fairly common in uttering threats cases.

Cases where the offender is sentenced to multiple years in prison for uttering threats to cause death or bodily harm usually involve other serious crimes, like kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder. In one Alberta case, the offender sexually abused six different children over 16 years, and was convicted of threatening to cause two of the children serious bodily harm if they tell anyone. He was convicted of many crimes, and his total sentence was 15 years in jail, three of which were for uttering threats. The Alberta Court of Appeal decided this sentence was fair and refused to reduce it.

Cases where the offender gets a lighter sentence typically involve less extreme violence and an offender who makes positive changes in their life and has good prospects for rehabilitation. In one Calgary case, the military veteran offender was suffering from PTSD, which contributed to his actions when he threatened to kill his wife and stepson after getting into an argument with them about the stepson not doing chores, threw a water bottle at his stepson and pushed him, and later told a police officer that he would have shot him if he had a gun. After the incident, the offender took charge of his life and actively engaged in treating his PTSD and attending counselling to be a non-violent and overall better citizen. For multiple counts of assault and uttering threats, he was sentenced to 18 months of probation and a conditional discharge, meaning that he will not have a criminal record three years after completing the conditions he receives from probation.

What is the sentence for threatening property or an animal?

The maximum prison sentence for threatening property or an animal is two years on indictment and two years less a day on summary conviction. Prison sentences are less common for these kinds of threats, especially when the crown proceeds summarily. Discharges, suspended sentences, fines, and probation are all available sentences.

Only extreme cases of uttering threats to property or an animal result in prison sentences, and they usually involve other violent crimes as well. In a recent Calgary case, the accused was convicted of numerous crimes, including assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, uttering death threats, and uttering threats to property, for which he received a total sentence of nearly two years in prison. The uttering threats to property charge received a 6-month jail sentence and involved threatening to burn down the victim’s house (with her grandmother in it).

Most charges for threatening property or an animal are diverted, or resolved by plea bargaining. For these charges, convictions after trial are rare, because trials are rare.