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What is a Threat?

Updated on February 19, 2010

A threat, in criminal law, is a declaration of intent to cause harm to the person, property, or rights of another in order to coerce the victim to engage in specified conduct.

Crimes involving threats include extortion, blackmail, robbery, rape, kidnapping, and the intimidation of public officials or witnesses. The conduct to which the victim is coerced in extortion and robbery is the turning over of property, but these crimes differ in that a robber threatens to inflict immediate, rather than future, harm. In blackmail, the threat is to make public certain facts unless the victim does what is demanded.

Extortion is usually penalized severely, partly because it is characteristic of organized racketeering. Such activity includes the "protection racket", in which periodic payments are coerced from businessmen, and "loansharking", in which money is lent to poor risks at exorbitant interest rates, and collection is ensured by threat of bodily or other injury if the debtor should default. In some situations where an official has power to confer or withhold benefits, it is often difficult to distinguish extortion (coercion) from bribery (collaboration).

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