Legal Ramifications of Uttering Violent Threats in Texas
Have you ever been so angry, that something comes out of your mouth that you really don’t mean, but clearly threatens the safety or wellbeing of someone else? We’re human and prone to feeling frustrated, intimidated and angry at other people; and when we are, there is that potential to say something innocuous that can be interpreted as a real actional threat.
Now, if you are like most people, you probably think that a threat is harmless. You know that you have no intention of following through with a violent act (or we hope that you aren’t considering fulfilling on your threat).
But you don’t have to be involved in a violent physical altercation to get into legal trouble in the State of Texas, for uttering threats to another individual.
Most people are really surprised at the legal issues and charges that can arise, from a verbal or written threat. That means conversationally spoken directly to the individual, or by email or on social media. In this article we’ll explore what legally constitutes a threat against the safety of another person, and review some of the charges that can result from exchanging this kind of dialogue with or without witnesses.
What Are the Laws in Texas Regarding Verbal Threats?
In the State of Texas, there are different levels of ‘Assault by Threat’ charges that a citizen can face, that vary depending on the nature and severity of the alleged comment(s). A Class C misdemeanor charge for a verbal threat is punishable by a fine of up to $500.00. That is the most common charge for verbal threatening, where the statement is not particularly violent.
Some examples of this level of verbal threat (without indication of physical action) may include angry or frustrated statements like:
- “I hope you get in a car accident.”
- “Why don’t you just die?”
- “I wish you were dead.”
How many times have you, in frustration or anger, said something like that to someone you were in a social dispute with? It’s so easy for those words to come flying out when tensions are high and the circumstance is tenuous. But expressing those emotions (no matter how legitimate the cause is) can result in serious legal problems for Dallas residents.
When a verbal threat is made that implies an action, or an intent to do something or have someone else ‘do something’ damaging to another individual, the charge changes because of that expression of legal intention. A Class B misdemeanor charge may occur when the recipient of the threat and victim believes that the individual sharing the threat poses a significant safety risk.
A Class B misdemeanor is punishable by incarceration of up to 180 days and a fine of $2,000.00. However, if the accused has previously made threats to the individual and been charged for them, or if the threatening party is breaking a restraining order, a second offense may result in a Class A misdemeanor which is punishable by up to one year in jail, and a fine of up to $4,000.00.
The laws are designed to protect citizens from verbal threats and from escalating intimidation or anticipation of violence or stalking. Because in some cases threats over time can actually result in a physical assault. This is especially true with former partners or spouses who have experienced domestic abuse or stalking.
It is important to be aware of the serious legal ramifications that can happen, when you utter a threat to another individual; whether they are a family member, friend or stranger. The defense of “I was only joking” doesn’t hold up in court, and if the individual has a prior criminal record for violence, there can be very surprising and punitive outcomes for threatening another individual. Even if you had no intention to follow through with your threat or comment.
Making a Threat About Someone to a Third Party or More Than One Person
What happens if you make a threat directed at a specific individual, but you make that comment to someone else? Surely you can’t intimidate or threaten someone, if they aren’t in the room. And if they hear about it from someone else, isn’t that legal hearsay?
The legal penalties for uttering verbal threats or committing ‘Assault by Threat’ in Texas can vary also on criteria specific to the intended target of the vocalized threat. For instance, there are even more severe penalties for threatening a law enforcement or peace officer, or a member of government (local or State) or any elected official.
When the threat is directed at multiple people or a group, there is the potential for the charge to be escalated to ‘terroristic threats’. Again, the implication of violence or threatening the safety of others is a necessary element for the charge; when you levy that threat against a group of people, or if the threat is politically, racially or xenophobic (against a religious group). For instance, if you were to threaten a group of people who were protesting LGBT rights in Dallas, and you addressed the whole group in that verbal comment, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense.
In the age of digital communications and social media, the evidence required to take legal action against someone who has uttered a violent threat is easier than ever before. Think about the videos of social gatherings and parties, or within the workplace privately, where people may not even be aware that they are being recorded. That is all the evidence that is required to report to the authorities and start an official complaint that can result in a felony or misdemeanor charge.
Effective Defense Strategies for Assault by Threat Charges in Dallas
If you have been charges with ‘Assault by Threat’ in Dallas, it is important to retain a qualified criminal defense Attorney as soon as possible. You see, the prosecution has already started working on proving your guilt in the case, and you need to start preparing an effective defense strategy with a criminal law Attorney you can trust.
Here are some of the factors that can make your legal defense against an Assault by Threat charge:
- How many times you (the defendant) have verbally threatened the individual.
- Whether you have ever been charged with a violent crime in the past.
- Whether you have been charged with domestic violence.
- Whether you had a weapon in your hand (gun, knife, bat or other implement) when you were making the verbal threats against the individual.
- Whether you have been charged previously with stalking.
- If you spoke to another individual about a plan to harm someone, pursuant to your verbal threat against them. This is premeditation of a violent crime, and a felony offense whether it is successfully carried out or not.
Many charges of ‘Assault by Threat’ in Texas are simply a case of hot heads prevailing in a tense or challenging situation. Most people do not have the intention to harm, injury or terrorize other people. But remember … the victim doesn’t know that. For them, having death or injury threats against them can be a terrorizing experience. And law enforcement will respond and act on these cases, as a matter of intervention to prevent violent crimes and injury.
Did you say something you didn’t mean, and now you are in some legal hot water and facing impending misdemeanor charges for uttering a threat? We don’t judge; it’s our job to defend you and prepare a legal defense that will help demonstrate the context and lack of fulfilled intention behind your comments. At Redden Law PLLC, we are a criminal defense team providing legal guidance and a free consultation for new clients. Contact us today to learn more.
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