NRS § 207.180 is the Nevada law that makes it a misdemeanor offense to send threatening or obscene letters. This is punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and/or up to 6 months in jail. Common defenses to these charges are that the defendant was falsely accused or did not act knowingly. A conviction may be sealed from the defendant’s criminal record 1 year after the case ends, and dismissed charges can be sealed right away.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. Is it a Nevada crime to send threatening or obscene writings?
- 2. What are the penalties under NRS 207.180?
- 3. How do I fight the criminal charges?
- 4. Is the crime sealable?
1. Is it a Nevada crime to send threatening or obscene writings?
Potentially yes. Nevada law makes it a criminal offense to knowingly send any writing that either:
- threatens to accuse another person of a crime, or
- threatens to expose a person’s infirmities or failings, or
- threatens to kill or wound another, or
- threatens to destroy a person’s house or other property.
NRS 207.180 also prohibits writing and sending an anonymous letter – or a letter with a fictitious name – that either:
- contains vulgar or threatening language; or
- contains obscene pictures.
The major difference between the crime of sending threatening letters versus blackmail (NRS 205.320) is that blackmail always requires that the sender intended to extort money from the recipient in exchange for not carrying out the threats.
It is unclear whether this law pertains just to physical writings on paper or also to electronic media, such as text messages, DMs, and social media. This law has not been updated since 1997, when email was still in its infancy.1
2. What are the penalties under NRS 207.180?
Writing and sending threatening or obscene letters is punished as a misdemeanor in Nevada. The maximum sentence includes:
- 6 months in county jail, and/or
- $1,000 in fines (though the judge may permit community service instead)
Jail is unlikely for a first-time offense. And subsequent offenses carry the same penalty range as first offenses. But judges are more likely to impose harsher sentences when defendants have prior convictions.2
Note that recipients of threatening or obscene writings may be able to apply for a restraining order to prevent harassing or stalking. Violating a temporary restraining order is a gross misdemeanor while violating an extended protection order is a category C felony.3
3. How do I fight the criminal charges?
Much of the statutory language in NRS 207.180 is very vague and can be construed in different ways. This actually may work in a defendant’s favor by making it harder for the prosecution to prove the defendant committed an unlawful act.
Common Nevada defenses to charges of sending threatening or obscene writings include the following.
- Lack of threats or obscenities: What a reasonable person considers threatening or obscene is extremely subjective. If a defense attorney can show that the writings were merely angry, negative or in poor taste without rising to the level of harassment or obscenity, then the charge may not stand.
- False allegations: Sometimes people wrongly accuse others out of anger, envy, or a misunderstanding. As long as a defense attorney can raise a reasonable doubt about whether the accused wrote or sent the letters in question, then the case should be dismissed.
- Police misconduct: Law enforcement officers may conduct arrests and searches only if there is probable cause to believe criminal activity has occurred. If a defense attorney believes that the police lacked lawful authority to conduct a search, the attorney may file a motion to suppress asking the judge to ignore the evidence that police found from their illegal activity. If the judge grants the motion to suppress, the district attorney may be left with too weak a case to continue criminal prosecution.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, it may also be a defense that the defendant did not know that he or she was sending or delivering a threatening letter. Perhaps someone switched out the letters without the defendant’s knowledge.
Another potential defense depending on the facts of the case is that the defendant was exercising his/her freedom of speech. But the First Amendment applies only in certain situations.
4. Is the crime sealable?
Yes. Convictions of sending threatening or obscene letters can be sealed one year after the case ends. And if the charge got dismissed, the defendant can petition the court for a record seal immediately.4
Note that the record seal process itself can take several months or as long as a year. Learn how to seal Nevada criminal records.
Are you or a family member facing criminal charges in Nevada? Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers through our online intake form or our telephone number 702-333-1600. Our legal team appears in state and federal law district courts in Clark County and throughout the state of Nevada.
Related miscellaneous crimes
- threatening phone calls / annoying telephone calls (NRS 201.255)
- solicitation (NRS 201.354)
- sexual assault (NRS 200.366)
- making a false statement on police reports (NRS 207.280)
- lewdness with a minor under 16 years of age (NRS 201.230)
- Nevada Revised Statute 207.180 Threatening or obscene letters or writings
1. Any person who knowingly sends or delivers any letter or writing:(a) Threatening to accuse another of a crime or misdemeanor, or to expose or publish any of the other person’s infirmities or failings, with intent to extort money, goods, chattels or other valuable thing; or
(b) Threatening to maim, wound, kill or murder, or to burn or destroy the house or other property of another person, or to accuse another of a crime or misdemeanor, or expose or publish any of the other person’s infirmities, though no money, goods, chattels or other valuable thing be demanded,
–> is guilty of a misdemeanor.
2. Any person who:
(a) Writes and sends, or writes and delivers, either through the mail, express, by private parties or otherwise, any anonymous letter, or any letter bearing a fictitious name, charging any person with crime; or
(b) Writes and sends any anonymous letter or letters bearing a fictitious name, containing vulgar or threatening language, obscene pictures, or containing reflections upon his or her standing in society or in the community,
–> is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- NRS 207.180, subsections 1 & 2.
- Pursuant to NRS 200.591; NRS 200.378; NRS 33.400. (Restraining orders are court orders.)
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255; see also Finley v. City of Henderson (In re Finley), (Nevada Supreme Court, 2019) 457 P.3d 263, 135 Nev. Adv. Rep. 63; Washoe Cty. DA’s Office v. Second Judicial Dist. Court, (2020) 473 P.3d 1039, 136 Nev. Adv. Rep. 67.