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Terroristic Threats: Laws and Consequences in Texas

When an individual threatens to commit a criminally violent act against someone else, and when the intention of the threat is to terrorize another person, the actors commits a terroristic threat.

A terroristic threat is considered a speech-based crime. It’s often difficult to discern if an individual’s acts alone constitute a criminal offense. Don’t risk a permanent criminal record if you’re accused of a terroristic offense threat.

If you are facing charges for making a terroristic threat, you need the immediate assistance of a skilled defense attorney. The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp has helped countless clients in Houston, TX and they will provide the best legal representation available. Click here to schedule an initial consultation today.

What Makes a Threat “Terroristic?”

A terroristic threat offense punishes both the speech (or written statement) and the speaker’s intended results of the speech. If the state of Texas’s penal code just punished the speaker for the speech, defense attorneys would challenge the law’s limiting the right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution.

The first element of a terroristic threat is the intent to terrorize, disrupt, harm, or intimidate a function of government.

To prove that the actor has made a terroristic threat, the prosecutor must show that the actor/speaker said something that’s reasonably considered as threatening. The speaker’s words may be subject to several interpretations, so the law typically considers the words from the victim’s perspective. For instance:

  • If a wife tells her husband, “I am going to kill you,” the threat is direct.
  • Any other person, including the husband, will probably consider the statement as a threat.

Some threats are more subtle. The law says that the statement context could be considered a threat by a reasonable person.

The second element of a terroristic threat is intention. Individuals throughout Texas make casual verbal threats on any given day. To distinguish a non-serious threat from a virulently serious or disturbing threat, Texas law says the threat must be intended for a certain illegal purpose. For instance, the actor intends:

  • to terrorize a victim
  • to disrupt a public event or operation
  • to intimidate or terrorize a witness
  • to frighten a police officer

Intention must be demonstrated to prove that an individual has committed a terroristic threat. Intent may be inferred from the circumstances in which a statement was made or from the statement itself. Many accused individuals don’t contest making a statement—especially if it was made in the presence of others—but instead, contest the intention behind the statement itself.

Which Texas Laws Describe Terroristic Threat?

The Texas Penal Code § 22.07 describes terroristic threat offenses. A terroristic threat in Texas includes any threat of violence to an individual, individuals, or property that’s intended to frighten, impede public affairs, or influence or disable government activities.

Section 22.07 (a) (2) describes the most common way that a terroristic threat offense is charged. Typically, when a person alleges that the defendant caused another individual (not necessarily the individual making the allegation) to become afraid of serious bodily injury, law enforcement charges the actor with a terroristic threat offense.

For instance, if the speaker says, “I will cut you up the next time we meet,” it might not infer that serious bodily injury will happen now. However, if the speaker says, “I’m going to slap you now,” it’s not a terrorist threat even though his or her words imply that the action will happen soon. A slap probably won’t cause serious bodily injury.

Under Texas law, serious bodily injury means that the speaker plans to create a significant risk or death or that he or she plans to cause serious/permanent disfigurement, loss or impairment of a limb or organ, or death. For example, if the actor says, “I’m going to mess up your face” and then strikes another person so hard that his or her jaw is broken and needs extensive medical care, a Texas jury might conclude that serious bodily injury occurred and that the defendant is guilty of a terroristic threat offense.

Terroristic threat is a serious charge in Texas. If you or someone you care about has been charged with a criminal terroristic threat offense, you need to involve an experienced criminal defense attorney now.

Why Is It Important to Fight a Terroristic Threat Charge?

The court evaluates the convicted individual’s prior criminal history before sentencing. A terroristic threat offense is a type of aggressive or violent offense, the individual may be required to obtain anger management counseling. The convict may be prohibited from contacting a victim of terroristic threat in the future in any way, including verbal, electronic, or in-person contacts.

Some individuals accused of a so-called “minor” terroristic threat think that a misdemeanor conviction won’t affect the future. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. For instance, if the convicted individual previously threatened a family member, the current conviction may become the basis for the enhancement of a future assault. In that case, he or she faces a felony offense the next time he or she makes a substantial threat.

Let’s say the defendant previously entered a guilty plea to the charge of a terroristic threat made to his or her spouse more than 10 years ago. He or she served just 10 days in county jail. However, if charged in the future for an assault or family violence charge, the convict will face a third-degree felony.

When Does Terroristic Threat Become a Felony in Texas?

Under Texas Penal Code § 22.07, a person commits a terroristic threat offense when he or she threatens to commit violence to another person or property belonging to another person.

Although the term terroristic threat calls to mind visions of the World Trade Center bombings on 9/11, many terroristic threat charges occur between intimate partners or family members. Other terroristic threat charges result from “pranks,” like calling in a bomb threat to a local school.

When the speaker’s words or written statements: 1) cause the other individual to fear for safety in an official capacity, and 2) if the individual threatened is part of a volunteer agency that deals with emergencies, or 3) prevents/interrupts use or occupation of an assembly place, building, or room in which members of the public have access, a place of employment, or a vehicle (such as a car or aircraft) or another conveyance, or 4) causes interruption of impairment of public transport, utilities, services, or communications, or 5) causes fear of members of the public or a substantial group to fear for serious bodily injury, or 6) influences activities or conduct or an agency or federal or state agency, or political subdivision, he or she may be guilty of a terroristic threat felony in the state of Texas.

As you can see, the laws concerning a terrorist threat charge are complex. If you or someone you care about is charged with making a terrorist threat, you need the insight and skill of board-certified criminal defense counsel.

What Are Common Defenses Against a Terroristic Threat Charge in Texas?

An experienced defense attorney may argue to negate the actor/speaker’s intention behind spoken or written statements made. In other words, the defense admits that the actor/speaker made a statement but challenges the intention of the threat.

If the individual has never had legal troubles before, or his or her interpersonal relationships have been peaceful, the defense attorney may focus on his or her congenial history with others to conclude that the statement was made in frustration or playfulness—not intended as a threat to terrorize or create stress to the victim(s).

However, if the victim is hostile, the presentation of a congenial history might not convince anyone that he or she was acting in fun or out of frustration. A knowledgeable, compassionate defense attorney will develop strategies to defend the client in this scenario.

Other defense strategies might include an insanity defense or a defense that the defendant was simply trading insults at a sporting event in which the defendant and others exchanged verbal threats.

Even if the accused can’t eradicate the charge, it’s possible to argue for a lesser sentence in some cases, such as disorderly conduct. The skill and experience of your criminal defense attorney may be a factor in the outcome of your case.

What Are the Punishments of a Terroristic Threat Crime?

If convicted of an offense under subsection (a) (3), the defendant faces punishments relating to a Class A misdemeanor. He or she faces punishments of up to one year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $4,000 unless he or she caused a financial loss of more than $1,500 to the building owner, place, conveyance, or room.

In that case, the defendant faces a state jail felony offense and is subject a maximum $10,000 fine plus a jail term of 180 days to two years in a Texas state jail.

If convicted under subsection (a) (4), (a) (5), or (a) (6), the defendant faces punishments relating to a third-degree felony. Under Chapter 12 § 12.34, the guilty individual faces two years to 10 years in prison plus a maximum fine of $10,000.

Consult an experienced criminal defense attorney today. Call The Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp now at (713) 868-6100.

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