West Virginia Supreme Court Clarifies Terroristic Act Statute

Under West Virginia law, a person who knowingly and willfully threatens to commit a terrorist act, with or without the intent to commit the act, is guilty of a felony. The penalty is a $5,000.00 to $25,000.00 fine, incarceration of one to three years, or both a fine and incarceration.

Like other states, West Virginia enacted the Terroristic Act Statute in direct response to the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. The aim of the Terroristic Act Statute is to thwart and/or punish future instances of qualifying acts of terrorism. This raises the question of what type of conduct rises to the level of a terroristic act.

W. Va. Code § 61-6-24(a)(3) defines “terroristic act” as an act that is:

(A) Likely to result in serious bodily injury or damage to property or the environment; and

(B) Intended to:

  • (i) Intimidate or coerce the civilian population;
  • (ii) Influence the policy of a branch or level of government by intimidation or coercion;
  • (iii) Affect the conduct of a branch or level of government by intimidation or coercion; or
  • (iv) Retaliate against a branch or level of government for a policy or conduct of the government.

Although the term “terroristic act” should be used in the most natural and obvious context, the Terroristic Act Statute has been used over the years to overcharge criminal defendants. The West Virginia Supreme Court recently handed down a decision that clarified the purpose and intent of the Terroristic Act Statute.

In State v. Yocum, the defendant was arrested for domestic battery and petit larceny. While handcuffed in the back of the patrol car, the defendant made a derogatory comment about the police officer’s family. As a result of the comment, the defendant was charged with a felony under the Terroristic Act Statute.

In overturning the defendant’s conviction, the Court held that defendant’s comments are still required to satisfy the Legislature’s intent in proscribing threats directed at and intended to affect the conduct of a branch or level of government by means of intimidation or coercion. Thus, a threatening comment directed at an individual police officer does not rise to the level of a terroristic act.

The Moore Law Firm, PLLC has successfully defended two criminal defendants who have been charged with felony offenses under the Terroristic Act Statute. The first case resulted in a jury acquittal of all criminal charges. The criminal charges in the second case were completely dismissed following plea negotiations with the prosecuting attorney.