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Jim Reilly
Jim Reilly, Crim Defense Atty
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 1804
Experience:  CA Atty since 1976, primarily criminal law. 150+ jury trials.
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My girlfriend accused me of making terroristic threats last

Customer Question

My girlfriend accused me of making terroristic threats last March. We just had a child at the time and she was emotionally unstable. She has agreed to drop the charges, but when she spoke with the officer who filed the report he said she would have to talk to the judge. They moved my case from magistrate court to superior court. What does that mean?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Jim Reilly replied 6 years ago.
Hello Customer and welcome to JustAnswer.

Since the case is already in court, the police officer who took the report no longer has any control over what happens with the case. It is now up to the prosecutor and, ultimately, the court.

The DA is not required to dismiss the case simply because your girlfriend has changed her mind about prosecuting.

The significance, if any, of moving the case from magistrate court to superior court depends on the reason for the move. It may just be normal procedure. If you let me know what state you are in and what reason, if any, was given for the move, I can let you know what it means.

Thanks for asking your question here on JustAnswer. If you have any other questions, please let me know.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Georgia. I went to the wrong courthouse and arrived at the correct one thirty minutes late. The judge said he dismissed the officer because of my tardiness. There is no evidence of these allegations, just her word. How would the prosecutor continue the case if there is no evidence?
Expert:  Jim Reilly replied 6 years ago.
Most of the magistrate courts in Georgia handle only small claims civil cases. In a few counties, the magistrates also handle the issuance of probable cause warrants in criminal cases. However, they do not handle criminal cases beyond the issuance of the warrant, so if there are to be any further proceedings in the case, they are automatically transferred to the appropriate Superior Court. Are you by any chance in Cobb County?

It sounds like what happened in your case was that you were not there and the court made a finding that there was probable cause for the arrest warrant and sent your case on to the Superior Court.

Your girlfriend's word is evidence. In fact, her testimony alone is sufficient to obtain a conviction if a jury believes her when she says you made the threat. Even if she now says you didn't, the DA can use her previous statement not only to impeach her credibility but also to prove the truth of what she previously said (that is, that you made the threat).

Furthermore, your girlfriend can be forced to testify you against her will. If she refuses to do so, she can be held in contempt of court and put in jail until she agrees to testify. I'm not saying that will happen, just that it is a possibility. Whether or not the DA wants to go to that extreme may depend on other factors (such as whether you have a criminal history of any kind, whether there were previous problems between yourself and your girlfriend, and exactly what the nature of the alleged threat was).

Thanks again for asking your question here on JustAnswer. If you have any further questions, please let me know.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
No im in henry county. What if she recants her story and says the threats were not made. For example: Instead of her saying he wanted to kill me, she says that i said i hope you die. Does that constitute a terroristic threat? Could she face charges for doing so?
Expert:  Jim Reilly replied 6 years ago.
Henry County is one of the Georgia counties in which the magistrate courts handle criminal arrest warrants and determinations of probable cause, so what I said above is most likely what happened.

As I said in my previous response, even if she now recants, the DA can use her previous statement not only to impeach her credibility but also to prove the truth of what she previously said (that is, that you made the threat to kill her).

Georgia Code section 16-11-37 defines a terroristic threat under Georgia law as follows:

(a) A person commits the offense of a terroristic threat when he or she threatens to commit any crime of violence, to release any hazardous substance ... or to burn or damage property with the purpose of terrorizing another or of causing the evacuation of a building, place of assembly, or facility of public transportation or otherwise causing serious public inconvenience or in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience. No person shall be convicted under this subsection on the uncorroborated testimony of the party to whom the threat is communicated.

Therefore, the statement "I hope you die" would not be a terroristic threat.

More significantly, I see that there is an exception to the usual rule regarding the sufficiency of evidence which applies in the case of a terroristic threat. That is, the provision that you cannot be convicted on the uncorroborated testimony of your girlfriend. So, if you are correct that there is no other evidence that you made this threat (no one else heard you and it was not put in writing), you cannot be convicted of this crime on the basis of your girlfriend's testimony alone.

Do you have an attorney representing you in this case? If not, you should consider consulting with one or, when you appear in superior court, asking for the public defender.

Your girlfriend could be in trouble if she changes her statement now, as the police could charge her with filing a false police report. However, it is rare for such situations to actually result in criminal charges against the original complaining witness.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
There is no record of the allegations at all. Just her testimony. In your expereience, what do you believe the likelyhood of the DA pursuing charges against me with no written evidence or witnesses would be?
Expert:  Jim Reilly replied 6 years ago.
If the DA has no other evidence and you make him aware of the fact that you know he cannot prove the charge without corroboration, he may well dismiss the case. In fact, he would be ethically obligated to do so. In my experience, most prosecutors take their ethical obligations seriously, though there are always exceptions. This was why I asked if you had an attorney to make the point for you -- the DA is more likely to respond favorably if he knows defense counsel is prepared to make the appropriate legal arguments.

Edited by RunTam38 CA Lawyer on 2/28/2010 at 9:14 PM EST
Jim Reilly and 4 other Criminal Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
ok thanks for you help.
Expert:  Jim Reilly replied 6 years ago.
You're welcome and thank you for the accept. Good luck resolving this problem. Come back and let me know how it works out. I will post this as an info request, even though I don't need any additional information, so that you are not prompted to accept again.