Have you been arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat? Sometimes when a person gets arrested for committing a terroristic threat, they can react in horror at the sound of the crime, and how closely it sounds like terrorism. It is not terrorism. This is a crime about threats. At its essence, the charge penalizes threats of imminent serious bodily injury. Imminent means that it is about to happen, and serious bodily injury means injury that involves the threat of death, or permanent disfigurement, or the extended loss of any bodily function. The terroristic threat statute deals with and criminalizes different types of threats of committing a violent criminal offense either toward a person, toward a group of people, toward someone's property. Most often, an allegation of a terroristic threat means to threaten or cause fear of imminent harm to someone. However there are different ways to get charged with terroristic threat, as seen below. These can include disrupting a public function or interrupting the use public place because of the threat of an offense involving violence. Terroristic threat can also threatening to commit an offense that causes disruption of public communications, transportation, water, gas, or power supply. 

How Severe is a Terroristic Threat Charge?

This crime can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what is alleged to have occurred, the effect of the threat, and how it occurred. Most often, terroristic threat is a misdemeanor. This is because the majority of terroristic threat charges are the result of one person threatening to commit a criminal offense involving violence against another with the intent to cause fear of imminent serious bodily injury. As detailed below, that conduct is a class B misdemeanor. However, it is a class A misdemeanor if it is committed against a family member. For a misdemeanor case, it can be either a Class A or Class B misdemeanor. Although, terroristic threat can also be charged as a third degree felony. This criminal allegation can be a sort of catch-all—made when no other crime really fits. The statute on terroristic threat is located in Section 22.07 of the Texas Penal Code. This page outlines this statute in detail, and discusses aspects and nuances of both misdemeanor and felony terroristic threats. If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat, call me to discuss your charge. There are many ways to defend cases like this. The crime does sound worse than it actually is, but you do not want a conviction for terroristic threat. It is important to consult with and retain an attorney who has experience defending cases like this and obtaining great results. Call me to develop a plan of attack. When I sit down with clients, we look at the evidence and then we create goals, and then strive toward those goals.         

Section 22.07. Terroristic Threat.  

The Texas statute on terroristic threat is located in Chapter 22 of the Texas Penal Code. This statute is grouped with the assault offenses and is similar to assault in the sense that there is often a "victim," and it is often the result of a conflict between two people. But terroristic threat is different the assault offenses in some fundamental ways. The first and most important way that terroristic threat differs from assault is the lack of actual violence. Terroristic threat deals with only the threat of committing a violent offense that places a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. For the language of the statute from section 22.07 of the Texas Penal Code, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page.    

What is Misdemeanor Terroristic Threat?

The terroristic threat statute has several components that must be satisfied in order to sustain a conviction in a criminal courtroom. There are several elements that must be a part of any terroristic threat charge, either misdemeanor or felony. For any terroristic threat charge (either felony or misdemeanor terroristic threat) you must threaten to commit an offense involving violence, either to a person or some property. The purpose of the legislation, when it was adopted, was designed to prevent people from disrupting public events by threat of violence to either people or to property. If you do make a threat of violence toward someone in an official capacity who reacts to your threat and you intended that reaction, you can be charged with an offense under (a)(1), dealing with threatening to commit an offense involving violence with an intent to cause a reaction from an official or volunteer agency. This offense is a Class B misdemeanor. Class B misdemeanors carry a potential range of punishment between 72 hours and six months and up to a $2,000 fine. The language of (a)(2) outlines the penalties for threatening a person with imminent serious bodily injury. The imminent component of this is essential, because if the threat is not imminent, the State begins to encroach on free speech and this is constitutionally impermissible. If you make a threat of imminent serious bodily injury against a family member or household member, that jumps the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanors carry a possible range of punishment of up to one year in jail and up to a $4,000 fine. Preventing someone from occupying a building or a car by threat of violence is also a Class A misdemeanor.            

What is Felony Terroristic Threat?

A terroristic threat can also be a state jail felony or a third degree felony. If a person’s threat of violence to people or property with intent to interrupt or impair a public utility such as gas lines, water supply, or any public communications or public transportation, that can be charged as a third degree felony. If there is an allegation that you threatened a substantial group of the public with violence, that can also be a third degree felony. What is a substantial group of the public? It is not defined in the statute, but should mean more than a few people. But who knows? It is vague and ambiguous. A state jail felony carries the potential range of punishment between six months and two years in a state jail facility. State jail is its own thing, different from county jail and also different from prison. Third degree felonies carry a possible range of punishment of between two and ten years in prison (Texas Department of Corrections) and up to a $10,000 fine. This is just the potential range of punishment, or course, and what the possibilities may be in your case will depend on many different factors. Deferred adjudication probation is also possible, with both state jail felonies and third degree felonies. Also possible is the reduction in charges from a felony to a misdemeanor. Any specific result depends on the specific facts and circumstances of your case.  

What Should You Expect? 

There are a number of ways to fight these charges, including getting a “Not Guilty” at a jury trial, getting your charge dismissed, or getting your charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Many factors come into play during plea negotiations that can swing an outcome in a case one way or another. A person's criminal history, the wishes and desires of the victim, and all the other circumstances that surround what happened will determine the outcome of the case to greater or lesser degrees. These are just examples of some things that generally affect plea negotiations. Another factor can be which prosecutor winds up with the case, or which judge winds up with the case. In Tarrant County, for instance, there are ten Criminal District Courts (felony jurisdiction) and ten County Criminal Courts (misdemeanor jurisdiction). In each District Court, there are now six felony prosecutors. There are two misdemeanor prosecutors in each County Criminal Court. Relationships matter. Sometimes, relationships make all the difference in getting a charge reduced during plea negotiations.

What Would a Jury Trial Look Like? 

If a deal cannot be reached, the case will get put on a contest docket in whatever court. Felony trials and misdemeanor trials have both many similarities as well as key differences. The rules of evidence are the same and the structure is the same in both felony and misdemeanor trials. However, the big difference is the number of jurors. In a misdemeanor trial, there are six jurors. In a felony trial, there are twelve. If your case goes to a jury trial, then there are many ways it can go. A jury trial is a very dynamic event. Getting great results in a jury trial depends on many things. The case must be presented in the most persuasive way possible. The jury must understand how high their burden is, that beyond a reasonable doubt often depends on whether or not you can get a great jury. There are other factors as well such as If you are facing a charge of terroristic threat, call me to talk about it. I offer a free consultation and I am happy to discuss your case with you. I work in Tarrant, Dallas, Parker, Johnson, and surrounding Counties. I try cases all over Texas.            

What Are the Limits of Free Speech?

Because this charge criminalizes a threat, which is speech, the First Amendment is implicated. Freedom of speech is a very important right. Arguably, freedom of speech is our most important constitutional right. It is outlined in the Bill of Rights. However, there are some limits and speech is not absolute. Threatening imminent serious bodily injury is one exception to free speech that the Courts have recognized. The U.S. Supreme Court has created several exceptions to free speech. One of these exceptions is making imminent threats toward someone. A Person cannot simply go to a baseball game and yell “there’s a bomb!” That would cause and riot and would result in a terroristic threat charge.