The State of Texas and the United States have criminal statutes against various true threats, and terroristic threats is one of them.
Everyone’s heard a threat before, but only some are crimes. On the one hand, a threat intended as a joke is not a crime, but, on the other hand, a threat of harmful or offensive contact, i.e. an assault, is a crime. Assault belongs to a category of threats called “true threats,” which can be prosecuted under the law.
Unfortunately, there’s no bright line clearly dividing true threats from other threats, but what’s clear is one side you are protected by constitutional free speech while on the other you are infringing on the rights of others.
When it comes to a criminal statute prohibiting true threats, figuring out exactly what conduct it prohibits can be tricky.
For instance, the statute prohibiting “terroristic threats” might be misleading. You might think it prohibits only extreme conduct in extreme situations, like guerrilla warfare, but it actually applies to a wide range of conduct and situations.
As mentioned above, there’s no clear answer to what is a terroristic threat, or any true threat for that matter, because whether certain speech, conduct, or behavior is unlawful heavily depends the context and intent.
For example, the recent global coronavirus outbreak, with its rapid infection rate and significant mortality rate, has made people fearing for their lives during routine activities, like grocery shopping.
It should be no surprise then that the government is prosecuting individuals threatening to expose or claiming to have exposed people to the coronavirus.
One viable option for them has been charging them with terroristic threats.
Considering the Department of Justice has started charging terroristic threats amid the coronavirus outbreak, viewing as COVID-19 as a “biological agent” and “biological weapon,” three statutes for terroristic threats that would be deployed by U.S. Attorneys include:
1) Use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, 18 U.S.C. § 2332a will apply to “a person who, without lawful authority… threatens… to use a weapon of mass destruction…”
2) Acts of Terrorism, 18 U.S.C. § 2332b will apply to a person who “… commits an assault resulting in serious bodily injury, or assaults with a dangerous weapon any person within the United States.”
3) Threats by wire, 18 U.S.C. § 875 will apply to a person who, “with intent to extort from” anyone, any money or other thing of value, sends a threat through a wired communication.
Texas Penal Code §22.07 makes it a crime for a person to threaten violence to any person or property with the intent to:
(1) cause a reaction of any type from an emergency response team or agency;
(2) place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
(3) prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building or place of public has access,
(4) impair of public communications, transportation, or another public service
The Texas Penal Code includes a broad definition of terroristic threats. This means state prosecutors can bring terroristic-threat charges against a wide range of statements and behavior. To give an idea of what state prosecutors would typically prosecute for terroristic threats, some general examples of such conduct might include:
Although these examples might seem so broad that they might apply to just about any behavior, state prosecutors prosecute alleged “terroristic threats” commonly and successfully.
Federal prosecutors also prosecute cases of terroristic threats, and are more likely to do is if the case significantly implicates federal interests, even though terroristic threat charges are usually brought by state prosecutors.
Threats of any actual terrorism, for instance, would likely prompt investigation from federal authorities, such as the FBI of DHS.
Similarly, threats against federal institutions, officials, employees, or property owned by the federal government would also likely prompt investigation from federal authorities.
Furthermore, threats made using the United States Postal Service or other means of communication under federal protection would also likely lead to federal investigation.
On the local level, you would likely see your local law enforcement, like Houston Police Department (HPD), and local district attorney’s office, like Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDA), prosecuting cases of terroristic threats.
On the state level, you would likely see state level investigators from the Texas Department of Public Safety (TDPS) which includes the Texas Rangers and Criminal Investigations Division, and assistant attorney generals at the Texas Attorney General’s Office (TOAG) prosecuting cases of terroristic threats.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are the most likely agencies investigating persons suspected of terroristic threats, as these three are the main law enforcement agencies of the federal government.
The punishment for terroristic threats most often includes an assessment of heavy fines and a term of imprisonment, but sentencing varies with each case’s unique set of facts, the presiding judge, and factors considered under the federal sentencing guidelines, which you can read more about here.
In Texas, terroristic threats are usually charged as misdemeanors, which still may come with significant consequences.
However, local prosecutors reserve the discretion to elevate charges for terroristic threat to felonies, and are more likely to do so in cases that involve:
On the federal level, yes, both terroristic threats under § 2332a and § 2332b are a felonies under federal law.
The maximum term of imprisonment varies greatly depending on who brings the case, the charges they bring, and the unique facts of each case.
Accordingly, the maximum punishment could be a life imprisonment for federal cases involving the death of an individual, but at the same time, for state-level misdemeanors, the maximum punishment could be significantly less severe.
The minimum sentence for state-level misdemeanors could be little to no jail time, but as with maximum sentencing, varies greatly depending on who brings the case, the charges they bring, and the unique facts of each case.
Every sentence in a federal cases is based on the federal sentencing guidelines, which considers a multitude of factors, such as prior criminal history, use of a gun, or position of trust, to calculate a recommended range that the federal judge may use as a guide for sentencing, however the presiding judge ultimately reserves final discretion at sentencing.
Thus, as long as the judge provides a reasonable basis for their decision on record, the judge may make what is called a “departure from the guidelines” and sentence the defendant to a term of imprisonment outside the recommended range. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.
Possibly, as it depends on the charges you are convicted of and the unique facts of your case. Ultimately, however, final discretion remains with the judge presiding over sentencing. Factors that also will help determine whether restitution will be required include whether there are victims of the convicted charges, whether those victims suffered compensable harm, the federal sentencing guidelines, and many more.
Possibly, as it again depends on the charges alleged in the indictment and the unique facts of your case As mentioned above, the charges and facts alleged in the indictment shape the scope of the entire criminal proceeding, including assets subject to pre-trial seizures and final forfeiture as part of sentencing, if convicted. You can learn more about the sentencing under the federal sentencing guidelines here.
See our news page for recent updates on COVID-19 terroristic threats cases here.
You should only speak with law enforcement investigator regarding anything related to terroristic threats, COVID-19 terroristic threats, or any other related crime after you have spoken to a criminal defense lawyer. Period.
A common question from people involved in a criminal investigation is at what point can they finally clear their name and share their part of the story.
You have probably heard investigators, prosecutors, and others taking the situation out of context, bending the truth, and misunderstanding what actually happened. They are relying on people who are lying, and the whole situation is outrageous and humiliating for you.
You should know that the Fifth Amendment exists to protect anyone accused of a crime from incriminating themselves, and the truth is it takes only one split-second mistake to get unnecessarily tied up in a prolonged criminal investigation that will place a heavy financial and time-consuming burden for you and loved ones. Do not go swimming with sharks alone and without a cage.
You need to speak with a terroristic threats or COVID-19 terroristic threats defense attorney to obtain sound legal advice before you speak with federal terroristic threats investigators, even if you think you have done nothing wrong.
You should contact a defense lawyer that has decades of experience handling criminal investigations before you engage with investigators. Balancing cooperation and protecting your constitutional rights and liberties requires a defense attorney that knows how to handle state, local and federal investigators.
If you have been contacted or anticipate contact from a federal terroristic threats or COVID-19 terroristic threats investigators, then you should contact and speak with a federal terroristic threats and COVID-19 terroristic threats defense lawyer to protect yourself, your freedom, and financial stability. You will not be able to talk yourself out of the crosshairs – you’ll only be wound up in a web of investigation tactics.
You need a terroristic threats defense lawyer who knows what they’re doing and has a proven track record of experience defending terroristic threats cases on both the state and federal level. Schiffer law firm has over four decades of experience defending clients involved in federal, state and local criminal investigations and clients accused of federal and state crimes. The terroristic threats defense lawyers at Schiffer law firm know how to handle terroristic threats cases from first contact by investigators to overturning wrongful convictions on appeal.
Schiffer law firm attorneys have and continue to defend people needing terroristic threats defense attorneys nationwide. Nobody is too small, and nowhere is too far. If you think you need to speak to a terroristic threats defense attorney, give us a call today.