Texas Laws on Verbal Threats

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In Texas, a verbal threat can mean serious consequences, including criminal charges, for the person who makes it. Even if the person making the threat was joking or just blowing off steam, verbal threats are taken seriously in the Lone Star State. No matter what the reason, it is illegal to threaten someone with violence.

Verbal threats may also be used when an individual stalks a victim, their family member or a member of their household. While verbal threats are generally misdemeanors, stalking in Texas is a felony.

What Is a Verbal Threat in Texas?

Under Texas Penal Code Chapter 22, Title Five, assault is a criminal offense when an individual knowingly or intentionally threatens another person or their spouse with imminent bodily injury.

Often, verbal threats are made in response to a challenging or tense situation, and the person making them may not mean what they say. Regardless, in the state of Texas, it is illegal to threaten someone, even if the individual making the threat has no intention of following through with it; the victim may not know this and genuinely fear for their safety.

Examples of verbal threats include:

  • Threatening to kill another person.
  • Threatening another person with physical harm or injury.
  • Yelling at another person in a threatening or abusive manner.
  • Threatening another person by phone or online.

Does the Severity of a Threat Matter in Texas?

Texas does not have specific laws regarding the severity of a threat’s contents. For example, a company employee who tells another worker that they are going to punch them can face arrest, just as someone who threatens to murder someone will.

Some circumstances enhance the charge and penalties for a crime. For example, an individual who threatens another while holding or waving a gun can face aggravated assault charges, which apply even if there is no physical contact or if the gun isn’t loaded.

And, if an individual threatens a law enforcement officer, a large group of people, or elected officials, they can face felony charges.

Penalties for Verbal Threats in Texas

Generally, when an individual is arrested for making verbal threats, they face Class C misdemeanor charges. If convicted, they’ll pay a fine of up to $500, but they can face greater charges, depending on the circumstances.

If someone threatens another to the point that they fear for their imminent safety (such as a terrorist threat), the person making the threat can face Class B misdemeanor charges, which carry penalties of up to $2,000 in fines and 180 days of jail time.

If someone makes a threat against a person who already has a restraining order against them, the charges increase even more. They face a Class A misdemeanor charge, which carries a penalty of up to $4,000 in fines and one year behind bars.

Stalking Under Texas Criminal Law

Stalking is a crime in all states. According to Texas Penal Code 42.072, stalking occurs when an individual engages in a pattern of repeated behavior directed at another that causes them to be afraid. Types of threats include death threats, threats of personal injury and threats to injure significant others or members of their family or household.

Other factors that define stalking include:

  • Person has the intent or knowledge that what they’re doing will instill a fear of bodily injury or death in the victim or someone they know, such as a family or household member. Threats may be explicit or veiled.
  • Threats made must be aimed at a specific individual; they cannot be general threats of violence.
  • The stalker or someone they know acting on their behalf carries out the threats.
  • Conduct must occur more than once and be directed toward an individual, family member or others in their household. Acts may include threatening contact via phone or email and causing damage to the victim's property.

Penalties for Stalking in Texas

In Texas, stalking is a 3rd degree felony, which carries a sentence of two to 10 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. If the stalker has an earlier conviction for stalking, the charge becomes 2nd degree felony with up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.

If the stalker is released from incarceration, the releasing officer must make a reasonable effort (at least one attempt) to notify the victim, and the victim must continue to notify law enforcement of changes to their phone number or address.

Victims of stalking should notify law enforcement or their local prosecutor's office of each incident. They can request documentation of the incidents and request copies of the incident report from law enforcement.

Terroristic Threat Charges in Texas

In Texas, a person commits a terroristic threat if they threaten to commit a violent offense against a person or property with the intent to:

  • Cause a volunteer agency or official who deals with emergencies to have a reaction to any type of threat.
  • Place another in imminent fear of serious bodily injury.
  • Prevent or interrupt the use or occupation of a room, building, place of assembly, public place, workplace, aircraft, vehicle or other form of conveyance.
  • Cause interruption or impairment of public communications, transportation, power, water or gas supplies, or other public services.
  • Place a large public group, or the public in general, in fear of serious bodily injury.
  • Influence the activities or conduct of federal government branches or agencies, the state or the state’s political subdivisions.

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