According to Texas state law, a terroristic threat is defined as a threat to commit a violent offense against other persons or property with intent to elicit one or more of the following responses:
- Put an individual in fear of imminent serious bodily harm;
- Place the general public or a significant portion of the general public in fear of serious bodily harm;
- Interrupt or prevent the use or occupation of a room, building, place of general assembly, place of employment, aircraft, automobile, place that the public has access to, and/or other form of conveyance or other public place;
- Trigger a reaction from any type of official or volunteer agency that is tasked with handling emergency situations;
- Interrupt or impair public communications, various modes of public transportation, public utilities (e.g., public water, gas, electricity, etc.), or other public services; and/or
- Influence the behavior or actions taken by a branch or agency of the federal government, Texas government, or political subdivision in the state.
Basically, if a person deliberately threatens to commit a violent act against another individual or property for the purposes of causing one or more of the above reactions to occur, then Texas law enforcement can arrest them for making terroristic threats.
The level of crime that a person can be charged with will depend on the facts of a specific case as well as if they have a prior criminal record. Additionally, the legal consequences for a conviction on such charges can range from having to pay a criminal fine to serving a prison sentence of up to 10 years or longer in a state prison facility.
Finally, if you are facing charges for a terroristic threat in Texas, then it may be in your best interest to contact a local Texas lawyer as soon as possible.
Does Texas Have a Law Outlawing Terrorist Threats?
In general, Texas does have a law outlawing terrorist threats. This does not necessarily mean that all conduct related to a terrorist threat will be immediately punishable by law. The reason for this is because a terrorist threat does not necessarily mean what persons believe it to mean in today’s standard context (e.g., the 9/11 attacks).
Thus, laws concerning terrorist threats walk the fine line between rightfully punishing dangerous individuals and enabling U.S. citizens to exercise their right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
According to Texas law on terroristic threats, an individual’s conduct must have corresponded with one of the very specific intents mentioned in the above section while they were making a terrorist threat. For example, making an off-the-cuff remark, such as “I would punch that person if I could,” would likely not constitute a terroristic threat under Texas state law.
On the other hand, If a person threatens to destroy a state power grid unless a government official pays them money, then this would likely constitute a terroristic threat under Texas law.
In order to be convicted of terroristic threats in Texas, the prosecution essentially needs to prove the following elements:
- The defendant threatened to commit a violent act against certain persons or property;
- The defendant intended to cause one or more of the listed reactions to occur by making that threat; and
- The prosecution has met the legal burden of proof for such cases, which is the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard.
Is Making a Terroristic Threat the Same as Making a False Report of Terrorism in Texas?
A terroristic threat is not the same offense as making a false report of terrorism in the state of Texas. As its name implies, a terroristic threat involves making a threat to seriously harm a person or property with one of the six specified intents mentioned above.
Making a false report of terrorism, on the other hand, is a very narrow crime that requires the prosecution to prove four particular elements, including:
- That the defendant filed a false report regarding an act or threat that would be considered terroristic in nature;
- That the defendant knew that the terroristic threat or act was false when they made the report;
- The defendant must have communicated the false threat or act to another person or to law enforcement; and
- The defendant must have committed this crime with the intent to cause fear or panic to others.
In Texas, making a false report is generally only punishable in one of two ways: either as a Class B misdemeanor or a Class C misdemeanor. It should be noted, however, that the offense will only be classified as a Class C misdemeanor if the false report is made in regard to a missing child or person. In such a case, the punishment will only involve a fine if convicted.
What Criminal Sentence Can I Get for Making a Terroristic Threat in Texas?
The typical terrorist threat sentence in Texas for defendants who are convicted of this crime include:
- A jail sentence of up to 180 days for those charged and convicted of a Class B misdemeanor;
- A jail sentence of up to one full year for those charged and convicted of a Class A misdemeanor; or
- A prison sentence of up to 10 years or longer for those charged and convicted of a third-degree felony offense.
There are some instances wherein a defendant may be able to get the length of such sentences reduced or dropped. This will depend on the facts of a specific case and whether there are any legal defenses available to raise against the charges. Some common defenses to this crime include:
- Proving that the defendant’s conduct was protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution;
- Demonstrating that there was no credible intent to follow through with the threat that was made;
- Claiming that the threat was intended as a joke and that no reasonable person would conclude that the threat was credible or possible;
- Proving that law enforcement arrested and charged the wrong defendant;
- Showing that the prosecution did not have strong enough evidence for a conviction; or
- Arguing that the prosecution did not meet its burden in proving the defendant committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
When Is Making Threats of Terrorism a Misdemeanor?
The Texas Penal Code provides that this crime will be charged a misdemeanor offense (specifically, either a Class A or Class B misdemeanor) under the following circumstances:
- If the terroristic threat triggered a reaction from any type of official or volunteer agency that is tasked with handling emergency situations;
- If it placed any person in fear of imminent serious bodily harm; and/or
- If it interrupted or impaired public communications, utilities, transportation, or any other public service, with damages below the cost of $1,500.
The crime will become a Class A misdemeanor if either the first or second intent is committed against a family member or public servant. The third intent in this list will automatically become a Class A misdemeanor regardless, unless the damages amount to $1,500 or more. As for cases that result in damages of $1,500 or more, the crime will be charged as a felony offense.
A person who is convicted of a Class A misdemeanor for this crime may face up to $4,000 in fines and possibly have to serve a jail sentence of no longer than one year in county jail.
On the other hand, persons who are convicted of Class B misdemeanors for this crime can face fines of up to $2,000 and may have to serve a jail sentence of up to 180 days in county jail. The penalties issued for Class B misdemeanors are less severe than those reserved for Class A misdemeanors since crimes that fall into Class A are generally considered more serious.
When Is This Crime a Felony?
The Texas Penal Code provides that terroristic threats can be charged as a felony if:
- The defendant intended to interrupt or prevent the occupation or use of a particular venue; and
- Their actions resulted in $1,500 or more in damages.
If the defendant is found guilty of committing a felony terroristic threat, then they will be punished in accordance with the statute. Penalties may include a prison sentence of one year or longer in a state prison facility.
A conviction of this crime will also be punished as a third-degree felony if it entails any of the following intended conduct:
- It caused an interruption or impairment to public communications, utilities, transportation, or any other public service;
- It placed the public or a portion of the public in fear of serious bodily harm; or
- It influenced the activities of a federal, state, or local branch of government, government agency, or political subdivision of Texas.
A conviction under any of these intents will result in a maximum criminal fine of at least $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to 10 years or longer, depending on the circumstances surrounding a specific case.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Terroristic Threat Charges in Texas?
Being charged with making a terroristic threat in Texas is a very serious offense. A conviction for this crime can lead to severe legal consequences. As discussed above, these consequences may include heavy criminal fines, prison sentences, and permanent criminal records.
Thus, if you are facing charges in Texas that involve making a terroristic threat, then it is strongly recommended that you hire a Texas criminal lawyer as soon as possible for further legal advice on the matter.
A Texas lawyer who has experience in handling cases concerning terroristic threat charges will be able to advise you of your legal rights and protections as a criminal defendant under Texas law. Your lawyer can determine if there are any defenses you can raise against the charges. Your lawyer can also discuss the possible penalties you may receive if you are convicted.
In addition, your lawyer can provide legal representation and petition the court to have the charges against you dropped or reduced. Lastly, if convicted, your lawyer may also be able to petition for an alternative sentencing program on your behalf.