Connecticut Man’s Threat to Younger Brother Not Protected

In Danbury, Connecticut, about 60 miles northwest of Manhattan, Michael Pelella (31) and his little brother (22) lived at their mom’s house.  When Pelella’s little brother said that he wanted to move up to the attic, Pelella objected—purportedly because Pelella had some of his stuff up in the attic.  Pelella allegedly told his little brother, “If you go in to the attic, I will hurt you,” causing the brother to feel threatened and to fear for his safety because Pelella had physically hurt him before.

The police were called because of the domestic disturbance, and Pelella was eventually charged with two counts of threatening to commit a crime.  Pelella challenged the charges, arguing that his statement was not a “true threat,” as required under the First Amendment to prosecute someone criminally for making threats.  Pelella told the Court that his statement was “an unplanned and spontaneous reaction to the upset and anger he felt and carried no immediate plan to harm.”

The Court had to determine whether Pelella’s statement “reasonably would be interpreted as a serious expression of intent to harm.”  Because Pelella was moving to dismiss the criminal charges against him and there had not yet been a trial, the Court couldn’t say one way or the other.  Recognizing that it was a “very close case,” the Court ruled against Pelella allowed the state to take him to trial.

Case: State v. Pelella, No. SC 19760 (Conn. Oct. 10, 2017) (opinion here)

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