Menacing can refer to a few different crimes, all of which share the following characteristics: the defendant has placed the victim in fear of imminent (immediate) bodily harm or unwanted physical contact, or has attempted or threatened to hurt the victim. Usually, no injury or physical contact is required.
Menacing as an Assault
In some states, menacing is just another way of describing an assault: attempting to hit or hurt someone, or placing another in fear of imminent bodily harm or offensive contact. For example, throwing a punch at someone could result in menacing charges, even if the person is not actually hit. Yelling threats at someone, or even looking at someone while making threatening gestures, could also be considered menacing.
For more information about assault, see Assault and Battery.
Menacing as Brandishing
Menacing may also refer to displaying a deadly weapon in a threatening matter. This crime is sometimes called brandishing. Deadly weapons include guns, knives, and other items designed as weapons. In some states, any object, including a part of the defendant’s body, can be a deadly weapon if the defendant uses it to hurt someone, or threatens or attempts to hurt someone with it.
For more information, see Assault With a Deadly Weapon.
For example, a person who waves a gun around could be convicted of menacing.
Menacing by Stalking
Some states also have laws against menacing by stalking (engaging in a pattern of placing another person in fear of bodily harm). For example, if a person keeps showing up at an ex-spouse’s home, calling or texting repeatedly, and making threats of physical harm, the person could be convicted of menacing by stalking.
The punishment for menacing can vary. Depending on the facts, menacing may be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year (or, in some states, two years) in jail; or a felony, punishable by incarceration in state prison. Whether a felony or a misdemeanor, menacing can also be punished by a fine and restitution (payment to the victim to compensate for monetary damages suffered). Usually, the most important factor in sentencing is the degree of injury suffered by the victim, if any. Other facts that can result in a longer sentence include:
- the use of a weapon
- the past criminal record of the defendant
- the presence of accomplices, and
- the status of the victim as a child or some other vulnerable person deserving of extra protection.
Obtaining Legal Assistance
If you are charged with menacing, you should contact a local criminal defense attorney. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court based on the law in your state and the assigned judge and prosecutor. With an attorney’s help, you can present the strongest defense and obtain the best possible outcome in your case, such as a dismissal, an acquittal, or the minimum sentence.