Threats against public officials are often gauged against the intent and apparent ability of the person making the threat. Most threats are taken very seriously, and some lead directly to arrests and incarceration either due to the threat itself or related actions. Criminal charges resulting from such arrests may not always be fair to the accused, based on the nature of the threat. Other considerations, such as the mental ability of a defendant to stand trial, may also come into play.
A man from nearby Federal Way, Washington, who wrote a threatening letter to his local police claiming that he would kill Obama was arrested and charged with threatening the president. Police arriving at the man's home found him decked out in a bandoleer with shotgun shells, and he responded to their presence by attempting to level a shotgun at an officer. The officer grabbed the barrel and, with a fellow officer, subdued the man. The suspect is currently awaiting further evaluation and legal proceedings.
Even in such seemingly dangerous circumstances, the rights of the accused must be protected. Police must take precautions to ensure that evidence is preserved and that suspects understand their rights during an arrest. The court-ordered mental evaluation in this case may lead to a judge finding the accused unfit to stand trial and result in placement in a psychiatric hospital.
Many people express displeasure with elected officials in a variety of different ways, and the freedom to do so is a constitutionally protected right. However, when violence or the threat of violence is involved, authorities may step in. That said, even apparently clear-cut cases may have underlying factors, such as mental illness, that require careful attention from the courts. Those facing serious criminal charges benefit greatly from understanding all of the available options for their defense.
Source: The Seattle Times, "Mental evaluation ordered for Federal Way man accused of threatening Obama," Mike Carter, Aug. 27, 2012
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