Death Threat Law and Legal Definition

Under state criminal codes, which vary by state, it is an offense to knowingly utter or convey a threat to cause death or bodily harm to any person. It is also an offense to threaten to burn, destroy or damage property or threaten to kill, poison or injure an animal or bird that belongs to a person.

In California, for example, political science teacher Michael Ballou started a furor over his "kill the president" e-mail assignment. Ballou, who teaches Introduction to Government at Santa Rosa Junior College's Petaluma campus caught the attention of both the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI when a student told his mother about the homework assignment and she in turn called the FBI.

Another student e-mailed "kill the president, kill the president" to the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D- Napa Valley, in Washington D.C. and Thompson's office, who contacted police prior to the Secret Service getting involved.