While the First Amendment does offer you freedom of speech, there are also numerous instances in which you may be arrested for saying or printing words that can be construed as threatening.
For example, a Houston man recently jumped on to social media to make a terrorist threat against the County Fair. He has been charged with Terrorist Threat, which is a Class B misdemeanor.
Two teenage Houston ISD students are facing felony charges for allegedly telling a classmate they intend to shoot up a school. And in Klein Forest, a high school student was arrested for making a campus bomb threat.
Terrorist threats are covered under Texas Penal Code Section 22.07. This crime is committed if a person “threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property,” with the intent of causing a reaction to the threat by agencies, place people in imminent fear of serious bodily injury, prevent or interruption the occupation or use of a building, room, or place of assembly, or influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government.
Threats may also be charged under harassment laws, under assault laws, or under stalking laws. In each case, the standard is whether or not the person who hears the threat has reason to believe that they will suffer a bodily injury, or is placed in fear of their life, or even if they have reason to believe their property will be harmed.
When defending these charges, we can focus on a few key issues.
- What is the evidence the threat was actually issued? There may be a great deal of evidence if the words were said on social media, via instant messenger, via text, or via email, but very little if the threat was made person-to-person.
- Is it really reasonable for the victim to believe the words were serious, instead of a joke or a figure of speech? People say “I’ll kill you” in a joking way over minor issues every day, for example, but it wouldn’t be reasonable to assume every instance of these words represented a true, legitimate threat. We can look at the alleged victim’s behavior or credibility to help make this case.
- If the charge is terroristic threat, we can attack the notion that you intended to cause fear, or a specific reaction as outlined in the penal code.
- First Amendment protection defenses still apply.
- We can sometimes prove mistaken identity…perhaps someone made that threat, but it wasn’t you.
In any case, it is always wise to avoid making statements which could be construed as threatening. They can lead to a lot more trouble than you may have anticipated.
If you are in trouble and need help, don’t hesitate. Reach out to schedule a free case review today.
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