Threats and Its Consequences in Texas Law

Threats and Its Consequences in Texas Law

Freedom of speech is a foundational principle deeply ingrained in the legal heritage of the United States. It’s important to know that “free speech” doesn’t mean people can say anything without consequences or responsibility. Threatening to harm a person or organization is a crime under the Texas Penal Code.

While freedom of expression is one of the guaranteed freedoms, it comes with limits and potential consequences if misused. People will always have the liberty to voice their opinions and beliefs in the State of Texas. However, its legality only extends to its responsible usage with consideration of the safety and well-being of others.

Certain forms of speech, especially those involving violent threats, can be harmful. Therefore, it is crucial to impose legal consequences for such to ensure a just and safe society.

What is a Threat?

A threat is a statement that scares or intimidates people. A statement is qualifying if leads a person or a group to believe that they are at significant risk of harm from the one making the statement. It is important to remember that the speaker does not actually have to carry out the threatening statement. The prosecution just needs to prove that they intended to make a threat.

The Watts v United States (1969) case references the interdiction of violent threats. Robert Watts was convicted for threatening President Johnson after he publicly stated that, “If they ever make me carry a rifle, the first man I want to get in my sights in is L.B.J.” 

In recent years, cases involving true threats made through social media have come before the Supreme Court.

Is Threatening Someone Illegal in Texas?

Yes. Uttering a threat towards someone, even if you don’t intend to act upon it, can lead to legal repercussions. The Texas Penal Code mandates that you may face charges for a Class C misdemeanor called “assault by threat.”

What Constitutes a Threat in Texas?

Individuals can perceive threatening statements, whether verbal or through actions, differently. If the alleged threat makes someone reasonably:

  • fear bodily harm
  • fear for their life
  • fear for their property’s safety,

It could lead to charges of assault by threat in Texas. In essence, a threat is any statement or action that instills reasonable fear of acts of violence to a person’s safety or property.

Threats can also come in many forms, including:

Written: threatening your accuser in written form, such as a letter or note.

Verbal: making threatening remarks to your accuser in person or over the phone.

Electronic: threatening your accuser through emails, texts, direct messages, or social media posts.

Threats can also manifest as physical actions. Regardless of the form the alleged threat takes, the repercussions of a conviction in the State of Texas are significant. However, it is helpful to remember that threats do not include political hyperbole or joking statements.

What are the Penalties for Assault by Threat?

The penalties for Assault by Threat in the State of Texas are:

  • In Texas, assault by threat is classified as a Class C misdemeanor, carrying a maximum fine of $500.
  • In certain circumstances, prosecutors have the authority to elevate assault by threat to a third-degree felony, resulting in a potential prison sentence of 2 to 10 years in a Texas prison and/or a fine not exceeding $10,000.
  • A person who threatens, causes harm, or recklessly endangers another person’s life, facing the risk of serious bodily injury, may be charged with aggravated assault or deadly conduct—both offenses carrying felony penalties and the potential for imprisonment.

It is important to remember that a conviction can also result in monetary penalties, such as payment of fines and restitution.

Arrested? Don’t Plea, Call Me!

If you are facing criminal charges, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer by your side. They can provide legal advice, guidance, and representation throughout the process. An experienced attorney will review your case, investigate the charges, and build a strong defense strategy tailored to your situation. They will negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf and safeguard your rights and interests in court.

A good lawyer can inform you about the potential consequences of being found guilty, such as imprisonment or fines. They can also explain the potential consequences of a conviction and work to minimize their impact on your life and future. Dealing with the criminal justice system can be complex and intimidating. However, having a criminal defense attorney can significantly improve the outcome of your case.