Threatening Someone Can Be Illegal in Texas

Gavel, handcuffs, and a book describing illegal threats in Texas

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Brett Pritchard Law

Updated on April 3, 2024

We’ve all said things in the heat of the moment that we’d likely prefer to take back. There is,

however, a legal line, and some things, such as threats, can’t be so easily retracted. If you verbally threaten someone else – even if you have no intention of carrying through with that threat and causing bodily harm – you could face legal action in the State of Texas.

If the threatened party chooses to take legal action against you, the charge is a Class C misdemeanor of assault by threat. If you are facing such charges, it is important to recognize that a conviction can seriously affect your future and that working closely with an experienced Killeen criminal lawyer is your best defense.

Freedom of Speech

In the United States, freedom of speech is a founding principle of our legal rights, but this freedom is not without important limits. We have the right to voice our opinions, but this right doesn’t extend to saying anything we feel like without fear of consequence. When your speech threatens another person or organization, it crosses the legal line.

In other words, we have the right to free speech within the context of responsible usage that considers the well-being and safety of others. Because violent threats can cause harm – and, thus, threaten our just and safe society – legal consequences are imposed.

What Constitutes a Threat in Texas?

A statement that inspires fear or intimidation in another person is classified as a threat. When a person’s statements cause another person or group of people to experience significant fear of harm, it is considered threatening behavior.

If your alleged threat meets any of the following criteria, you could be facing charges of assault by threat in Texas:

  • Your allegedly threatening statements made the other person reasonably fear bodily injury.

  • Your allegedly threatening statements made the other person reasonably fear for his or her life.

  • Your allegedly threatening statements made the other person fear that his or her private property was in danger of being damaged.

In other words, a threat amounts to a statement (or a physical action) that leaves the other person in reasonable fear that his or her safety or personal property is in imminent danger of being seriously harmed.

An important issue to understand is that the party who makes the threat needn’t carry it out for it to be against the law. Instead, only proof of intent to threaten is required. What may just be a throwaway statement to one person can be taken as a serious threat by someone else.

If you are being accused of threatening someone, you need the guidance of a seasoned Killeen criminal defense attorney. He or she will guide you through your case and advocate for the best possible outcome.

The Threat’s Form

In Texas, a threat reaches the level of a criminal threat if it strikes fear in the victim and leaves him or her fearful for his or her safety (or the safety of his or her property). Such threats can take many forms:

Verbal Threats

You may be surprised by how expansive the charge of verbal threats can be. In fact, all of the following actions suffice:

  • Menacingly telling someone else that you know where he or she lives can be interpreted as a form of intimidation of a threat of violence.

  • Employing intimidating language, such as, “You’d better watch your back,” can lead to a charge of threat.

  • Threatening to damage someone else’s property is also an illegal threat.

  • Making a statement that you are going to harm or kill someone else is a classic threat that the State of Texas takes seriously.

These kinds of threatening remarks are criminal whether they are made over the phone or in the presence of the accuser. Even if you never had the intention of actually causing bodily harm, you could still face a charge of assault by threat.

Electronic Threats

The World Wide Web has not only changed the way we shop and communicate but has also made it far easier to threaten one another. It is illegal to threaten someone via email, DMs, social media posts, texts, or other electronic means.

Written Threats

Threats can also take the form of written letters or notes, which can be less challenging to prove.

Physical Threats

Threats can also take physical forms, such as slamming things around, throwing items out of anger, or engaging in any other physical actions that are considered threatening without actually harming the victim. When the threat includes causing the other person physical harm, it elevates the charge.

Consider the following common examples of physical threats:

  • Coming into physical contact with another person in a manner that is threatening

  • Brandishing a deadly weapon in the presence of someone else – even if you don’t threaten him or her with it

  • Menacingly following someone else – even if you don’t come into physical contact

  • Making a menacing gesture toward someone else that implies you will use physical force to harm him or her

  • Damaging someone else’s property or causing bodily harm

It should be noted that, in this context, a deadly weapon is anything that can cause serious injury or death, which goes well beyond firearms.


Stalking is a form of threat and intimidation, and it’s a serious crime in the State of Texas. Stalking is a comprehensive charge, but in general, it applies to causing someone else to reasonably feel harassed, abused, intimidated, alarmed, annoyed, tormented, offended, or embarrassed.

All of the following elements are necessary for the charge of stalking to apply:

  • The accused knew or reasonably should have known that the victim would find the communications or actions threatening.

  • The accused knowingly engaged in the stalking behavior, which must have included harassing conduct or the threat of harm.

  • The accused caused the victim to reasonably fear damage to his or her property, to reasonably fear bodily harm, or to experience any of the feelings listed above, such as harassment, intimidation, fear, or torment.

Cyberstalking refers to online harassment, and it involves the same list of actions – threatening, intimidating, harassing, and beyond – via online means.


Harassment is another form of threat that can lead to criminal charges in Texas, and it refers to harassing, alarming, or annoying someone else with the express intent of causing fear, physical harm, or distress. Harassment elevates the charge of threat to a Class A misdemeanor, which carries up to a year of jail time and fines of up to $4,000.

Common examples of illegal harassment include the following behaviors:

  • Repeatedly contacting someone else after being specifically told not to

  • Repeatedly visiting or calling someone at work or home when the attention is not welcome

  • Sending unwelcome, threatening messages through electronic means

  • Following someone else around when the behavior is unwelcome

  • Repeatedly threatening violence or sexual assault

Whether or not you intended to cause the other person to fear you or to experience distress, a reasonable belief that you represent a threat can be enough to support a charge of harassment.

Terroristic Threats

Terroristic threats take the charge of threat to an even more serious level. A terroristic threat refers to a threat of committing an act of violence with the express intent of causing someone or a group of people to reasonably fear imminent serious injury or death.

Terroristic threats go beyond seriously threatening an individual to include threatening violence in any of the following capacities:

  • Putting a specific group of people in fear of being seriously injured

  • Causing official groups that respond to emergencies, such as volunteer agencies, to react in any way that isn’t legitimately required

  • Preventing or interrupting the regular use of a building, a public place, or a place of assembly

  • Exerting influence over a branch of the government, an agency of the government, or a political subdivision of the state

Common examples of terroristic threats include all the following actions:

  • Calling in a bomb threat to a school, a former employer, or to any other enterprise

  • Planting a fake bomb in a school, the premises of a former employer, or anywhere else

  • Credibly threatening to kill one’s spouse

  • Threatening damage to a power plant or another utility provider as a means of disrupting service

  • Threatening a house of worship and its members

When the terroristic threat is against an individual, it’s generally charged as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries up to 6 months in jail and fines of up to $2,000. If the victim is a family member or an elected official, the charge can be enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor, which carries up to one year in jail and fines of up to $4,000.

If, on the other hand, the terroristic threat rises to the level of disrupting public communication or services, placing the public in fear of bodily harm, or influencing part of the government, the charge can be levied as a third-degree felony, which carries prison time and heftier fines.

The Threat’s Content

There are no hard and fast requirements for what constitutes a threat in Texas. In the end, any action or comment that leads another person to fear for his or her safety may be deemed threatening behavior. As such, it is important to have a knowledgeable Killeen criminal defense attorney at your side to help you build a strong defense for your charges.

Threatening Someone Else Is Illegal in Texas

Threatening utterances or actions can lead to charges of assault by threat. While the charge of assault by threat is generally charged as a Class C misdemeanor that carries up to $500 in fines but no jail time, there is an enhancement if the threat is related to a domestic disturbance that includes an arrest requirement. And such arrests are on the rise.

The offense of threatening assault applies in both of the following circumstances :

  • The accused intentionally or knowingly threatens another person, which can include a spouse, with imminent bodily injury.

  • The accused intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another person that he or she knows or should reasonably believe will be considered offensive or provocative.

Class C Misdemeanors

A straight Class C misdemeanor carries a fine only, but this is not to say that it isn’t a serious legal matter. Misdemeanors are criminal charges, and if you simply pay the associated charge to put the matter behind you, it means you’ve admitted guilt to the underlying crime.

At this point, your record is marred, which can have serious implications for your life. Many enterprises – as a matter of course – reject applicants with criminal records of any kind, and this includes those with Class C misdemeanors. As such, having a Class C misdemeanor on your record can carry all the following consequences:

  • It can affect your ability to get a job.

  • It can affect your ability to rent a home.

  • It can affect your ability to further your education by obtaining a federal loan, gaining acceptance into the college of your choice, or living on campus.

The Family Violence Enhancement

Family violence – or domestic violence – is a broad charge, and when it applies in conjunction with a charge of assault by threat, it can lead to a significant legal enhancement. Family violence charges relate not only to people who are married but also to those who are members of the same family, who are members of the same household, or who are current or former romantic partners.

The charge of family violence goes beyond acts that are intended to cause bodily harm to include threats that cause the victim to reasonably fear imminent physical harm, assault, or sexual assault.

A Class C Assault by Threat Conviction with a Finding of Family Violence

If you are convicted of the Class C misdemeanor of assault by threat with a finding of family violence, the stakes are even higher, and you can face all of the following consequences:

  • A prohibition of gun ownership or possession

  • Restrictions related to professional licensure

  • Restrictions related to parental rights, including parenting time

  • Exclusions related to nondisclosure of records

  • Enhancements for any future domestic violence charges, such as an enhancement from a misdemeanor to a felony charge

Contact an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

Being accused of assault by threat in Texas is a serious legal situation that can have important consequences for your future. Criminal lawyer Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, has extensive experience helping clients like you prevail against such charges, and he is committed to building your strongest case and helping you obtain a favorable resolution.

We are on your side, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 for more information today.

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