Intimidation is an act or course of conduct directed at a specific person to cause that person to fear or apprehend fear. Usually, an individual intimidates others by deterring or coercing them to take an action they do not want to take. The intimidation may become a civil or criminal offense unless that behavior serves a “legitimate purpose.” See 18 U.S. Code § 1514.

Victims are not required to prove that they are in actual fear. Intimidation can be proven by words, actions, or other behaviors accumulated that can cause a reasonable person to apprehend fear.

Intimidation of a victim or witness is not permitted. The victim or witness in a federal criminal case can bring a civil action to restrain the person who intimidates them. The court may issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting intimidation or other harassment if it finds a reasonable person may believe the threat exists. The restriction usually is less than 14 days. While if the adverse party agrees, it could exceed 14 days. See 18 U.S. Code § 1514.

Intimidation is also a misdemeanor in several states, like Guam, Montana, and California. For instance, §422.6(a) of the California Penal Code states: “No person, whether or not acting under color of law, shall by force or threat of force, willfully injure, intimidate, interfere with, oppress, or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him or her by the Constitution or laws of this state or by the Constitution or laws of the United States in whole or in part because of one or more of the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim listed in subdivision (a) of Section 422.55.”

[Last updated in August of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team