A Chicago man is facing criminal charges because of a Snapchat video he uploaded to his social media account. The video shows the man standing in front of the Chicago police headquarters on South Michigan Avenue in the very early hours of the morning. The man reportedly displays a handgun and verbally threatens to shoot the several police officers that can be seen on screen. His threats are apparently specific to individual police officers in the video. Police were unaware of the video until a social media user reported it. Investigators tracked the man down to a relative’s home where they found him to be in possession of a Daisy brand air gun. He was arrested and charged with threatening a public official.
Even though police were not immediately aware of the video and its contents they were able to use social media user information to track the man to his location. He may not have expected that his Snapchat video would land him in jail. However, the crime of threatening a public official is a felony and can have severe consequences. According to Gus Kostopoulos, a criminal lawyer who practices in Chicago and familiar with this case, says, “Because of the consequences, it is important to be careful what you put on the internet and social media for the world to see. You could find yourself in a lot of trouble.”
In Illinois, it is a crime to threaten a public official. What does it mean to criminally threaten a public official? To be guilty of this crime you must knowingly deliver or convey, by any means of communication, a threat that would place a public official and/or their immediate family in reasonable apprehension of danger. Danger can include immediate or future bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, restraint, or even property damage. The threat must also be made because of hostility toward officer’s status or position as a public official. When a threat is made against a law enforcement officer the threat must contain specific facts that indicate a unique threat against specific officers. A threat cannot be a general threat of harm.
To get a conviction in this case the prosecution will have to prove each element of the crime. If they fail to prove even one element they will not be able to convict the man for threatening a public official. A review of the facts and elements can help to determine how strong their case is.
- Did the man knowingly convey a threat to a public official? The man videotaped himself standing in front of the Chicago police headquarters while holding a gun and making specific threats of violence against police officers.
- Could the threat place the police officers or their families in reasonable apprehension of danger? There is no requirement that the threat be immediate or imminent. In fact, the statute explicitly says that the fear can be about a future threat of danger. The simple act of waving a gun and making verbal threats should be sufficient to trigger a reasonable apprehension of fear of officers in the video.
- Was the threat made because of the hostility toward the police officers because of their status as public officials? Probably. The language the man used seemed to indicate that he had a dislike for police officers in general, because of the very nature of their role in society. If the threat is made out of hostility toward any factor related to a public official’s existence, it will likely satisfy this element.
- Was the threat specific enough to indicate a unique threat to individual officers? The man clearly used language to indicate that he would shoot at least two different police officers while they were visible on screen. The language the man used, his intent, and the totality of the circumstances will be analyzed to determine if this element was met. The man’s criminal defense attorney will likely argue that his video was a general statement about police officers, rather than unique and specific threats against individual officers. The state, on the other hand, will likely argue that the language the man used was enough to clearly identify a unique threat to each officer on the video. A finder of fact will have to determine if the prosecution provides sufficient evidence to support their argument.
Threatening a public official in Illinois is a Class 3 Felony. Posting a threatening video on social media could land this Chicago man in prison. A Class 3 Felony can carry a sentence of no less than 2-5 years in Illinois state prison, one year of mandatory supervision after release, 30 months of probation, and fines of up to $25,000. Illinois courts may also have the discretion to extend the sentence for this crime. If certain aggravating circumstances were present during the threat or if the man has any Class 3, Class 2, Class 1, or Class X felonies convictions within the last 10 years, a judge may increase the term of imprisonment to 5-10 years.
A conviction can also result in several non-criminal consequences, as well. A Class 3 Felony conviction can result in loss of the right to vote, own or possess a firearm, or serve on a jury. Landlords, employers, and lenders may also see a conviction on a background check. This can limit opportunities for employment, housing, and loans in the future.
The best way to limit the negative consequences of an arrest and criminal charges is to hire an experienced attorney to represent you. An attorney can make sure that your legal rights are not violated and that you are given the opportunity to defend yourself in court.