The Charge of Verbal Assault in Texas

Gavel and speech bubble representing Texas verbal assault charges

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Most of us equate assault with physical assault, but verbal assault can also do considerable damage and can rise to the level of a crime in Texas. Words can do harm, and recognizing that what you say can have serious legal consequences is critical.

If you are facing a verbal assault charge, the best approach is to seek the skilled legal guidance of an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney.

Verbal Assault Defined

The charge of verbal assault is also referred to as assault by threat, which is distinct from physical assault and involves employing threatening language to serious effect rather than causing physical harm. In Texas, verbal assault is defined as intentionally or knowingly issuing credible threats of causing someone else to suffer imminent physical harm.

For the charge of verbal assault to hold, the person who issued the threat must have intended for the victim to fear bodily harm and the victim must have reasonably believed that the accused would carry the threat out.

In order to successfully bring a verbal assault charge, the prosecution must prove each necessary element beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Accused Threatened Bodily Injury

The state must prove that the person accused of verbal assault threatened the victim with imminent bodily injury. This fact can be difficult to prove when there are no witnesses and the matter comes down to one person’s word against the other’s.

The accused is not required to carry out the threat made in order for this element to be met. Simply making the threat suffices, but the state is charged with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did so. When there is no witness or other evidence to prove this element, the jury is likely to weigh the victim’s credibility against the accused's credibility.

The Accused Intended for the Victim to Fear Bodily Harm

In the course of threatening the victim, the accused must have intended for the victim to fear imminent bodily harm. Proving another person’s intentions is challenging, but the state will turn to the following kinds of evidence in their efforts to prove the intentions of the accused:

  • The words the accused used

  • The context in which the accused made the statement or statements

  • The actions the accused engaged in prior to and after making the statement or statements

Sometimes, people make idle threats that they don’t mean and don’t intend anyone else to take seriously. For the charge of verbal assault to apply, the accused must have intended that the threatening statements be taken seriously by the person being threatened.

The Victim Feared Bodily Harm

The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the threat caused the victim to experience genuine fear.

The accused must have intended for the victim to fear bodily harm, and the victim must have reasonably believed that the threat was credible and that the accused had the capacity to carry it out. If the victim thought the person doing the threatening was nothing more than a harmless boaster, the charge of verbal assault is unlikely to stick.

The Threat Was Verbalized

For the charge of verbal assault to apply, the threat must have been articulated via spoken or written word. Gestures or actions on the part of the accused don’t suffice. Instead, the person charged with engaging in verbal assault must have made the threat aloud or in writing.

Lack of Consent

The victim can’t have consented to being threatened and can’t have provoked the accused into the threat of bodily injury. When a victim willingly engages in a heated verbal exchange that ends in a threat or goads the other person into threatening him or her, it supports the defense that the victim consented to the threat.

The Legal Consequences

The charge of verbal assault is generally charged as a Class C misdemeanor, and a conviction carries up to $500 in fines. However, if the accused already has a conviction for verbal assault on his or her record or displays a weapon when making the threat, the charge can be elevated.

While a Class C misdemeanor can’t lead to jail time, the social consequences of having a criminal record should not be ignored. Your record is a matter of public information, and more and more employers, landlords, and lenders are paying attention. In other words, your ability to get a job, rent an apartment, or obtain a home loan can be affected.

If you are facing a criminal charge for verbal assault, the consequences can be serious. It is always wise to work closely with a skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and your future.

Harassment Charges

Harassment charges are similar to verbal assault charges, but they focus on abusive behaviors that are intended to cause victims to feel harassed, annoyed, abused, alarmed, tormented, or embarrassed.

The Exhaustive List of Abusive Behaviors

The exhaustive list of behaviors classified as verbal harassment in the State of Texas was expanded in 2023. To be convicted of harassment, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you not only engaged in one of the behaviors listed but that you also did so with the specific intention of harassing, annoying, abusing, alarming, tormenting, or embarrassing the victim.

Any repeated incidents of harassing a victim can lead to the separate and more serious charge of stalking.

Harassment can be done in person, over the phone, in writing, online, or through text, but it must be addressed by one of the following categories of harassment defined by the law.

Initiating Obscene Communication

One form of harassment is initiating communication with someone else that includes a comment, request, suggestion, or proposal considered obscene. Obscene in this context refers to either a patently offensive description of or a solicitation to commit a sex act that goes beyond the community standard of free speech.

The idea here is that the comment or comments in question were clearly offensive. While there is no absolute definition regarding obscenity, the nature of the relationship between the two people, as well as the content and context of the comments, help determine if the communication crosses the line into obscenity.

Threatening

Threats are where the charge of verbal assault intersects with harassment. When the accused threatens the recipient of the communication with the infliction of bodily injury in a manner that is likely to alarm, it qualifies as harassment. The threat can also focus on committing a felony against the person, a member of the person’s household or family, or the person’s property.

Conveying False but Alarming Information

Another form of harassment is when the accused engages in the conveyance of information known to be false about a third party suffering a serious injury or death in order to alarm the recipient. If the false information is reasonably likely to alarm the person, the charge of harassment can apply.

Repeatedly Calling

When someone repeatedly causes someone else’s phone to ring, makes repeated anonymous calls to someone else, or otherwise uses the phone to communicate with another person in a manner that is likely to harass, annoy, abuse, alarm, torment, or embarrass, it’s a form of harassment.

Making calls and intentionally failing to hang up or disengage the connection also makes the cut. So does allowing one’s phone to be used by someone else in any of these telephonic forms of harassment.

Sending Repeated Electronic Communications

Another variation of harassment in Texas is repeatedly communicating with the victim electronically in a manner that is likely to harass, annoy, abuse, alarm, torment, or embarrass. “Electronically” refers to virtually any form of electronic communication you can think of, including texts, emails, DMs, faxes, and beyond.

Publishing Communications Online

It is a form of harassment to publish repeated communications with someone via a website or social media platform in a manner that is reasonably likely to cause him or her to experience emotional distress, abuse, or torment. The only time such communications are within the boundaries of the law is when they are legitimately based on matters of public concern.

Tracking Location

It is also against the law to track another person’s vehicle or any other personal property without consent. This charge includes using a tracking application on the person’s phone, using a tracking device, physically following a person, or having someone else physically follow a person.

Penalties Faced

The charge of harassment is generally brought as a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to 180 days in jail and fines of up to $2,000. However, if an enhancement applies, such as a second conviction for harassment, the charge is bumped up to a Class A misdemeanor and carries a jail sentence of up to a year and fines of up to $4,000.

The charge can also be enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor if one of the following factors applies:

  • The offense was committed against a child who was under the age of 18, and the intent was that the child commit suicide or engage in conduct that could leave him or her seriously injured.

  • The accused had previously violated a temporary restraining order or injunction regarding the victim.

If the prosecution determines that you harassed the victim repeatedly, you can also be charged with stalking, which is a felony charge. Stalking is a completely separate crime, and it carries much heftier penalties and fines.

A skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges you are facing and will help you navigate the criminal justice process with your rights intact.

FAQ about Verbal Assault

Consider the answers to the following frequently asked questions about verbal assault in relation to your own case.

Can I Face a Criminal Charge for Simply Threatening Someone?

In Texas, you can face a criminal charge for threatening someone else as long as all the following factors apply:

  • You intended to threaten the other person with bodily harm.

  • The threat was either vocalized or in writing.

  • The other person found your threat credible and reasonably feared suffering bodily injury as a result.

Can I Do Jail Time as a Result of Making a Threat?

The charge of verbal assault is generally a Class C misdemeanor, which means that you can face fines of up to $500 but no jail time. However, if the charge isn’t your first, it can be enhanced, and a jail sentence can apply.

Even though you may not serve jail time for making a threat, it’s important to remember that there are social implications for even a Class C misdemeanor that should not be ignored.

What Is the Difference between Verbal Assault and Harassment?

While a threat can be a form of harassment, harassment needn’t involve a direct threat. Harassment refers to behavior that makes the other person feel harassed, annoyed, abused, alarmed, tormented, or embarrassed, and it’s an even more serious crime than verbal assault.

Harassment is generally charged as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries jail time, but repeated harassment against the same person can lead to a separate felony charge of stalking. Stalking begins as a third-degree felony, and a conviction means 2 to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Discuss Your Case with an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Verbal assault and harassment charges are legally complex, and if you find yourself on the wrong end of one, it’s time to seek professional legal counsel. Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard – proudly serving Killeen, Texas – is a formidable criminal defense attorney with decades of imposing experience effectively and efficiently guiding challenging cases like yours toward advantageous outcomes.

Your case is important and we’re here to help, so please don’t wait to reach out for more information about what we can do for you by contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 and scheduling your FREE consultation today.

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