On January 21st, Pennsylvania state police arrested a Lebanon County man en route to Washington, D.C. with an AR-15 rifle, two handguns, rope, and ammunition. Police stopped him at a gas station near Shippensburg after the Cornwall police department sent out an alert warning that he had allegedly threatened to kill his ex-wife and Democratic Senators in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.
The Lebanon man originally faced state charges of making terroristic threats. Police dropped those charges after a federal grand jury indicted him for 'threatening to murder a United States government official." The man's dueling charges raise an interesting question about what happens when your actions violate federal and state law. Who prosecutes the case and why?
A person makes terroristic threats if "the person communicates, either directly or indirectly, a threat to:
(1) commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another;
(2) cause evacuation of a building, place of assembly or facility of public transportation; or
(3) otherwise cause serious public inconvenience, or cause terror or serious public inconvenience with reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience."
Making terroristic threats is normally a first-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania, carrying a possibility of up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. See 18 Pa. C.S. § 2706 (2002). But if the threats disrupted a public facility or assembly, it can be a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony conviction carries up to seven years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
The maximum penalty for threatening to murder a U.S. government official is typically ten years in prison, a term of supervised probation, and a fine. However, in sentencing, the judge will consider:
- The nature, circumstances, and seriousness of the offense,
- The history and characteristics of the defendant, and
- The need to punish the defendant, protect the public, and provide for the defendant's educational, vocational, and medical needs.
So, a judge can sentence someone convicted of this crime to more than ten years if necessary, under these factors.
When Will the Feds Get Involved?
While we can't always predict when the federal government will decide to prosecute behavior that violates both state and federal law, the feds typically only get involved if a crime has an interstate connection. Some examples include:
- Drug trafficking,
- White-collar crimes like fraud or securities violations,
- Sex crimes, particularly if they cross state lines,
- Counterfeiting, and
- Threatening U.S. government officials.
In many cases, the penalties you face under federal law are more severe than state penalties. While, in some cases, state officials may decide to drop charges and allow the federal government to prosecute the case, state officials don't have to drop the charges. You can face prosecution for basically the same crimes in both federal and state courts without violating the Constitution's double jeopardy protections.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
If you face federal or Pennsylvania state charges, you need a criminal defense attorney skilled at handling both federal and state criminal cases. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team can work quickly to protect your rights in both federal and state court. Call 888.535.3686 today to schedule a consultation. Attorney Lento fights hard for his clients. He can help you, too.