Section 879 of Title 18 prohibits knowing and willful threats to kill, kidnap, or inflict bodily harm against the following categories of persons who are protected by the United States Secret Service:
- Members of the immediate family of the President;
- Members of the immediate family of the Vice President;
- Former Presidents;
- Members of the immediate family of a former President;
- Major candidates for the Office of President and Vice President;
- Spouses of major candidates for the Office of President and Vice President within 120 days of the general Presidential election; and
- Immediate families of the President-elect and Vice President-elect.
The purpose of this statute is to prohibit threats against former Presidents and other Secret Service protectees not covered by the Presidential threat statute, 18 U.S.C. § 871, or the protection of foreign officials statute, 18 U.S.C. § 112. This gives the Secret Service the legal basis for investigating and prosecuting threats against all categories of persons authorized to be protected under 18 U.S.C. § 3056 and Public Law No. 90-331, 82 Stat. 170, as amended, and who are in fact being protected by the Secret Service. Sections 115 and 351 of Title 18 may provide a basis for criminal prosecution for threats to government and former government officials and their immediate families which may or may not be covered by sections 871 or 879. See United States v. Raymar, 876 F.2d 383, 389-390, (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 870 (1989).
A prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 879 would not only require proof that the statement could reasonably be perceived as a threat but would also require some evidence that the maker intended the statement to be a threat. Objective circumstances would bear upon the proof of both subjective intent and objective perceptions. For example, if a person were serving a term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and therefore objectively could not be perceived as presently able to effect a threat to kill a protectee next week, this circumstance should bear upon whether a communication by the person would be considered as "knowingly and willfully" made. H.R. Rep. No. 725, 97th Cong., 2d Sess. 4 (1982), reprinted in 1982 U.S. Code Cong. and Adm. News 2624, 2626.
The application of 18 U.S.C. § 879 was significantly altered in 1994 by restrictions placed upon the Secret Service's authority to provide protection for Former Presidents who did not serve as President prior to January 1, 1997, their spouses, and minor children. Section 3056(a)(3) of Title 18, generally restricts protection to a period of 10 years from the date such former President leaves office rather than for life; and to a one year period for the spouse when the President dies in office or within one year after leaving office, with spousal protection to terminate upon remarriage or divorce from, or death of, a former President, rather than solely upon remarriage. Subsection (a)(4) restricts protection of children of a former President who are under 16 years of age to the shorter of a maximum period of 10 years or upon the child becoming 16 years of age.