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What are the threats to kill sentencing guidelines?

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Making a threat to kill is a very serious offence. Even if a threat is not met with any physical violence, it could still lead to very harsh penalties being handed out to anyone who is convicted.

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Threatening behaviour of any description can cause significant psychological harm to victims, as well as being a means of coercing or pressuring someone to take a specific action or behave in a certain way. This ultimately means that the courts are compelled to take any threats to kill seriously when a case is raised.

Here, we take a look at what a threat to kill actually involves, the relevant death threats laws you should be aware of, and what threats to kill sentencing guidelines in the UK currently look like.

What is classed as a threat to kill?

Threatening to kill is an offence set out under Section 16 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

Essentially, the offence involves an instance where, without lawful excuse, an individual makes a threat to kill another person or third party, and there is reasonable fear to believe that this threat could be carried out. The threat could be verbal, physical or written.

As touched on already, to pursue a threat to kill charge, the prosecution does not necessarily need to prove that the intention to carry out the threat existed. However, it must be shown that the person receiving the threat would have feared that the threat would be carried out.

This means that the offence is heavily dependent on context. Verbal threats that are taken out of context and are not supported with any solid evidence may not be admissible.

Are death threats illegal?

Yes. As long as the threat fulfils the criteria set out in Section 16 of the Offences against the Person Act, it will be considered an illegal act.

Threats to kill are ‘either way offences’. This means that they can be tried at either the Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court depending on the severity of the threat and the surrounding circumstances.

What can the police do about death threats?

If the police are present when a threat to kill is made, and they have reason to believe that a victim would fear this threat could be carried out, they will have the power to arrest an alleged offender and to bring them in to the police station further questioning.

Equally, the police may ask someone accused of committing a threat to kill to attend a voluntary interview (also known as an interview under caution).

While voluntary interviews are technically voluntary on the part of the alleged offender, failure to attend could lead to an arrest.

What are the threats to kill sentencing guidelines?

The potential threats to kill sentences that could be handed out vary significantly depending on a wide range of factors.

As per Sentencing Council, the offence range is between a Community Order and seven years’ custody. Meanwhile, the maximum sentence for threats to kill is ten years’ custody.

In every case, the sentence that is handed out for a threat to kill is determined by an offender’s perceived culpability and the harm which has allegedly been caused by the offence.

Culpability is divided into three categories:

  • A – higher culpability
  • B – Medium culpability
  • C – Lesser culpability

In cases of higher culpability, the following criteria will apply:

  • Significant planning
  • Visible weapon used as part of the threat to kill
  • Threat to kill made in the presence of children
  • History of violence towards the victim
  • Significant violence threatened as part of offence

In cases of medium culpability, the following applies:

  • Factors are present in higher and lesser culpability and balance each other out
  • The culpability falls between the factors described in higher and lesser culpability

In cases of Lesser culpability will involve:

  • An offender’s responsibility being reduced by a mental disorder or learning disability
  • The offence being limited in scope and duration

Harm is also separated into three categories:

  • Category 1 harm
  • Category 2 harm
  • Category 3 harm

Category 1 harm is the most serious. It involves:

  • Serious distress caused to the victim
  • Significant psychological harm caused to the victim
  • Offence has considerable practical impact on the victim

Category 2 harm falls in the middle and will involve:

  • Some distress caused to the victim
  • Some psychological damage to the victim
  • Offence has some degree of practical impact on the victim

Category 3 harm involves:

  • Little or no distress being caused to the victim

As can be expected, cases which are deemed to involve a higher level of culpability and harm will be treated more seriously by the courts.

For example, the sentencing range for threats to kill that have the highest level of culpability and harm is between 2 and 7 years’ custody. Meanwhile, threats to kill which have the lowest level of culpability and harm have a sentencing range of a low-level community order and a high level community order.

Are there any aggravating or mitigating factors for threats to kill sentencing?

Threat to kill sentencing guidelines will also be influenced by the presence of any mitigating or aggravating factors. These will serve to increase or decrease the final sentence that is handed out for anyone who is convicted of a threat to kill.

Common mitigating factors which could decrease the severity of a threat to kill sentence include:

  • No prior convictions
  • No relevant or related convictions
  • Clear remorse for actions
  • Previous good character and/or exemplary conduct
  • Age and/or lack of maturity
  • Mental disorder or learning disability
  • Serious medical treatment that requires long-term treatment
  • Sole or primary carer for dependents
  • Determination to address behaviour

Statutory aggravating factors which could increase the severity of a sentence handed out for a threat to kill include:

  • Previous convictions which have regard to the offence
  • Short time elapsed between previous conviction and offence
  • Offence motivated by hostility towards protected characteristic
  • Offence committed whilst on bail
  • Offence committed against emergency worker
  • Offence committed against person performing public duty or services to the public

Additional aggravating factors which are likely to influence a threat to kill charge include:

  • Offence committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public
  • Significant impact on others, particularly children
  • Vulnerable victim
  • Failing to comply with existing court orders
  • Offence committed on license or post sentence supervision

Alternate charges to threats to kill depending on specific circumstances of a case.

You can be arrested, released under investigation or charged for offences similar to threats to kill. Those offences being less serious than the actual offence of threats to kill. A list of offences can be found below.

  • Assault
  • Criminal damage
  • Stalking
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour
  • Public order offences

If you have been invited to a voluntary interview, released under investigation with pre charge bail conditions or charged with such offences, contact us to instruct our expert legal advice at the earliest opportunity.

What should I do if I’m accused of threatening to kill?

If you have been arrested, are under investigation, or have been invited for a voluntary interview in relation to a threat to kill allegation, it is essential that you instruct expert legal advice at the earliest opportunity. As discussed above, the potential sentence you could receive for a threat to kill can be very serious and, without the right level of support, you could be left vulnerable.

When you find yourself in this type of situation, it is important that you understand what your case involves and what your legal rights are. At the same time, you should be aware of what actions could serve to undermine your legal defence.

From our experience, many people accused of an offence such as threats to kill may hesitate to instruct a criminal defence solicitor for fear that it would somehow implicate them. This is never the case. Having an expert criminal defence solicitor on your side will only serve to strengthen your position.

No matter your individual circumstances, speaking to solicitors could also eventually mean the difference when it comes to having charges reduced or dropped altogether.

At JD Spicer Zeb, our criminal defence solicitors have more than 45 years of expertise in handling these types of offences. As such, we will be well positioned to guide you through the various defence strategies that may be available for your case, regardless of what the surrounding context may be.

Speak to our threat to kill solicitors today

For urgent specialist advice, immediate representation or to speak to us confidentially about death threats laws, or a specific threat to kill charge, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact a member of our dedicated team of criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham, and Manchester by telephone on:

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible

24/7 legal representation for threats to kill

For immediate representation and advice about threats to kill sentencing guidelines in the UK, you can contact our Emergency Number: 07836 577 556, and we will provide you with the urgent assistance you need.

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