This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol10 Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Wills, Administration", by Albert H. Putney. Also available from Amazon: Popular Law-Dictionary.
A threat is any menace of such a nature and extent as to unsettle the mind of one on whom it operates and to take away from his acts that free, voluntary action which alone constitutes consent.330 A mere oral threat is not a criminal offense at common law.331 But under existing statutes a threat made orally as well as in writing is an offense. This offense as defined by statute is frequently called blackmail.332 The making of any threat of a character calculated to overcome a firm and prudent man, for the purpose of extorting money from another, is an indictable offense.333 By statute it is a criminal offense to threaten to accuse another of a crime,334 whether the purpose be accomplished or not.335 The threat to accuse another with a crime embodies the idea of using any means necessary to cause the person to be proceeded against for the criminal offense.336 Under a statute making it an offense to threaten to accuse another of a crime, with intent to extort money, the telling of another that a third person is threatening to prosecute him is an offense,337 and any such threat includes any criminal offense which may be prosecuted within the territorial limits of the United States.338
322 State vs. Jones, 71 Miss., 872; State vs. Pritchard, 107 N. C, 921; Cleveland vs. State, 34 Ala., 254; Culler vs. State, 36 N. J. L., 125.
323People vs. Monk, 8 Utah, 35; Levar vs. State, 103 Ga., 42. State vs. Merritt, 5 Sneed (Tenn.), 69; Com. vs. Bagley, 7 Pick (Mass.), 281.
324 Ming vs. Truett, 1 Mont., 322; Com. vs. Saulsbury, 152 Pa. St., 554; Reg. vs. Baines, 6 Mod., 192; State vs. Pritchard, 107 N. C, 921.
325 Collier vs. State, 55 Ala., 128;
People vs. Rainey, 89 Ill., 34;
White vs. State, 56 Ga., 385. 326 Dunlap vs. Curtis, 10 Mass., 210. 327 People vs. Whaley, 6 Cow. (N.
Y.), 661; Emery vs. State, 6
Blackf. (Ind.), 107; People vs.
State, 22 Tex. App., 685. 328 Cross vs. State, 1 Yerg. (Tenn.).
261; State vs. Merritt, 5 Sneed (Tenn.), 67; Com. vs. Mitchell, 3 Bush. (Ky.), 25. 329 U. S. vs. Harned, 43 Fed., 376;
12 Am. & Eng. Ency. Law, 585
There are statutes prohibiting the sending or delivering of any letter, writing or document containing certain kinds of threats, such as threats to injure the credit or reputation of another.339 Under such a statute the sending of a letter to a debtor threatening to publish him among his neighbors as a bad debtor unless he pays a claim demanded, is an offense.340
330 State vs. Brownlee 85 Iowa, 473; Abbott's Law Dictionary.
331 State vs. Benedict, 11 Vt., 236.
332 Utterback vs. State, 153 Ind., 545.
333 Rex vs. Southerton, 6 East, 127.
334 People vs. Sexton, 132 Cal., 37; Com. vs. Goodwin, 122 Mass., 33; Reg vs. Miard, 1 Cox C. C, 22; People vs. Gardner, 144, N. Y., 119; People vs. Williams 127 Cal., 212; Moore vs. People, 69 Ill. App., 398; People vs.Whittemore, 102 Mich., 519.
335 Com. vs. Coolige, 128 Mass., 55.
336 Com. vs. Murphy, 12 Allen (Mass.), 449.
337 Moore vs. People, 69 Ill. App., 398.
338 State vs. Waite, 101 Iowa, 377.
339 State vs. McCabe, 135 Mo., 450.
340 State vs. McCabe, 135 Mo., 450.
The guilt or innocence of the person accused with a crime is no defense to a charge of criminal threat. Thus, where a person threatens to prosecute another for perjury with intent to compel such person to do an act against his will, the guilt of the person so threatened is no defense.341 Under some statutes the intent in making the forbidden threat is material and under others not, depending upon the language defining the offense. The threat to injure the person or property of another with intent to extort money or compel him to do an act against his will, must be made under such circumstances as to operate to some extent on his mind;342 but under some statutes this is not essential.343