Are Threats Illegal

Are Threats Illegal? Can You Go To Jail For Threatening Someone?

4 Mins Read November, 11 2023 Posted by Nilanjana Basu

Are you facing threats? Is someone verbally threatening you and making your life difficult? Are you scared but they are going to harm you? We understand if you have numerous questions in your mind.

You may be wondering “are threats illegal?”, “are verbal threats illegal?” or “death threats illegal?”.

Well, we are here to answer these questions for you. Let us first understand what constitutes a threat according to the law of the United States.

Legally, What Is A Threat?

In order to answer your “are threats illegal” question, let us find out what a threat officially is. Legally, a threat is an expression through which one shows their intent to cause harm. Threats may do the following.

a.  Signify the intention to harm a person.

b.  Show the intent to harm dear ones or family.

c.  Display the intention to cause financial loss,

d.  Signify the intention to cause physical injury to a person.

Now, the person threatening may convey their intention typically through verbal, written, or electronic means of communication. Once the person makes the threat it must cause the recipient to be scared of the consequences. The recipient may fear for their personal safety or that of people or materials dear to them.

What Makes A Threat Illegal?

To understand the concept of “are threats illegal”, let us find out the elements that a threat should contain, in order to be illegal.

a.  First, the authorities should see Intent.

This means that the person making the threat should have the intention of causing the recipient harm.  Law often considers the purpose behind the threat to determine if the threat is a crime.

b.  Second, the authorities should see Credibility.

The authorities must find reason that the maker of the threat is a reasonable person who would actually carry out the threat in action. For example, Sam is frustrated at his neighbor who unnecessarily makes a lot of noise. He gets angry one day and screams, “I will kill you!” at his neighbor. The law will consider this to be an expression of frustration and not a threat.

c.  Third, the authorities need proof of Communication.

For a threat to become illegal, the person making the threat should actually communicate it. Mere thoughts, instincts or apprehension do not count. The communication can happen through speech or writing, gestures, or electronic communication. You can receive a threat via a text messages, an email, posts on social media platforms, etc.

d.  The Recipient should feel Fear.

An illegal threat should create enough and reasonable fear in the mind of its recipient. It can be a fear of harm, injury, or other form of damage. If the recipient has no reason to be scared or if the threat is not genuinely potentially harmful, there is no reason for the authorities to take action.

Thus, we hope this answers your question of “are threats illegal”. All threats are not necessarily illegal. However, the law of the United States maintains the balance between free speech according to the US Constitution and tackling of illegal threats.

Are Verbal Threats Illegal In The United States?

Yes, making verbal threats can be illegal in the United States. However, the answer to the “are threats illegal” in this matter will depend on what the threat it is. Verbal threats can take the form of a joke. However, it can have the intention to intimidate someone without actually causing physical harm. 

A verbal threat can lead to legal consequences of the authorities find sufficient reason. For example, in the state of Texas, a person making a verbal threat can face Class C misdemeanor charge for Assault by Threat.

Are Death Threats Illegal?

In the U.S. if a person threatens to kill or physically harm someone, it would be a criminal threat. Now, depending on the facts of the case and the jurisdiction, the state law may label it as terroristic threats, malicious harassment, violent threats, or other terms. So, are threats illegal? A criminal threat is illegal. It is when one threatens another to cause them physical harm or even death. Therefore, death threats are indeed illegal.

Now, Are Death Threats Online Illegal? Are Threats Of Violence Illegal?

To answer these questions let us find out what it takes for the law to prosecute for a threat. To secure a conviction the person making the threat should be having these elements.  

1. The person making the threat communicated an intention to harm to another person.

2. There has to be communication of the intent to harm for authorities to consider the threat illegal.

3. A threat needs to come from a credible source.

4. Threats have to be specific enough for the recipient to fear harm to themselves or near ones.  

Therefore, verbal threats that lead to reasonable fear of harm in the recipient will lead to criminal charges.

Why Are Threats Illegal?

Threats are illegal because they can lead to fear, distress, pain and emotional trouble to the recipient. According to the law of the United States, a threat can only be a “true threat” if it leads the recipient to feel true fear. It can either be fear of physical harm or death or other forms of damage.

Did you know that the Constitution’s First Amendment upholds one’s right to free speech? There are certain limitations which allow the protection of the rights of the people against this provision. These limitations are what excludes a threat from the freedom.

The 2003 case of Virginia v. Black by the Supreme Court described what a threat is. It clearly defined threats as a speaker’s intent to carry out an act violence. However, this intent has to be communicated properly.

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Nilanjana Basu

Nilanjana is a lawyer with a flair for writing. She has a certification in American Laws from Penn Law (Pennsylvania University). Along with this, she has been known to write legal articles that allow the audience to know about American laws and regulations at ease.

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