Free speech is a bedrock principle of American law. But “free speech” does not give you the right to say whatever you want without restriction or consequence. For example, if you speak threats of physical violence directed against a person or organization, you can be charged with a crime under the Texas Penal Code.
Two 17-Year-Old Males Charged in Separate Incidents
In fact, there have been at least two recent stories about law enforcement arresting individuals for making “terroristic threats,” which is a specific criminal offense recognized by Section 22.07 of the Penal Code. In the first incident, police in Denton arrested a 17-year-old student who allegedly called 911 and falsely reported that “people had firearms” on the campus of Braswell High School, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle. This prompted law enforcement to lock down four schools in the area. Police said no weapons were found, leading the 911 caller to be charged with making a terroristic threat.
In the second incident, another 17-year-old man, this one from Waxahachie in Ellis County, was charged with allegedly threatening to “commit jihad” against a women’s health clinic that performs legal abortions, according to Newsweek. It was unclear what specific facility the defendant was allegedly targeting, as media reports noted there were no such clinics operating in Ellis County, although there are several in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, which is located about 30 miles away. The actual threats were purportedly made on a Twitter account controlled by the defendant, who also posted “videos of guns, as well as racist comments and references to committing murder,” according to Newsweek.
It is worth noting that although both of the defendants are 17 years old, they are still charged as adults under Texas law.
The Penalties for Making Terroristic Threats in Texas
So what exactly qualifies as a “terroristic threat,” and what are the possible sentences each of these defendants face if convicted? As we noted above, making a terroristic threat is a specific offense defined in the Texas Penal Code. Basically, it is a crime to threaten to commit another crime “involving violence” that targets “any person or property” for any (or all) of the following reasons:
- 1. to “cause a reaction” on the part of any “official or volunteer agency” that deals with emergencies;
- 2. to place someone “in fear of imminent serious bodily injury”;
- 3. to “prevent or interrupt” the use of a public building or place where the public has access, including an office building, car, or airplane;
- 4. to impair or interrupt any public service, including a utility or public transit;
- 5. to place the public–or any “substantial group of the public”–in fear of “serious bodily injury”; or
- 6. to influence “influence the conduct or activities” of any government agency, official, or political subdivision.
For example, calling in a false bomb threat with the intent to get law enforcement to lock down a public school–as allegedly happened in the Denton incident–would qualify as making a terroristic threat under item (1) listed above. Similarly, threatening to attack a clinic open to the public–the charge against the man arrested in Ellis County–would qualify under item (3). Of course, it is possible for a given terroristic threat to qualify under multiple items.
As for the consequences, Section 22.07 provides different penalties depending on the type of threat and the intended target. Here is a brief rundown:
|Item(s)||Offense Level||Max. Prison||Max. Fine|
|1||Class B Misdemeanor||180 days||$2,000|
|2||Class B Misdemeanor||180 days||$2,000|
|2, if the target was a public servant or a member of the defendant’s family or household||Class A Misdemeanor||1 year||$4,000|
|2, if the target was a peace officer||State Jail Felony||2 years||$10,000|
|3||Class A Misdemeanor||1 year||$4,000|
|3, if the threat caused a financial loss of at least $1,500 to the owner||State Jail Felony||2 years||$4,000|
|4, 5, or 6||Third-Degree Felony||10 years||$10,000|
Contact a Criminal Lawyer in Collin County Today
As you can see, making a terroristic threat is not simply a case of someone exercising their right to “free speech.” It has a particular definition and legal context. And Texas law enforcement clearly takes such offenses seriously, as demonstrated by these two recent arrests.
So if you, or someone in your family, is charged with making a terroristic threat, you can’t afford to treat the matter lightly. These are serious charges with serious penalties attached. A qualified Collin County criminal defense attorney can help. Contact the offices of Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC at 972-369-0577 if you need to speak with a lawyer today.