Can Police Arrest Me for Making a Threat?

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, stress and anxiety over COVID-19 is worse than ever. Many times, this stress prompts us to say inappropriate things. In normal times, these verbal slips are embarrassing, but that’s about it. However, these are not normal times. Everyone is on edge and we all need to try to focus on being relaxed and peaceful. The slightest little thing can be interpreted as a threat. So, that verbal slip-up might have some grave consequences.

On a related note, when many people are under stress, they could self-medicate with alcohol or another substance. Such self-medication might relieve the stress for a bit. But it also lowers inhibitions and clouds judgement abilities. So, in this context, self-medication usually does more harm than good.

“I was upset” is not a legal defense to threat charges. This excuse will certainly not keep officers from arresting you. In fact, it will probably have the opposite effect. Many officers take people to jail so they can “cool off – dry out”. Therefore, if you make an offhand comment which scares someone and you end up arrested, you will need a get out of jail card and call Fizer Bonding Company (Clarksville, TN bail bonds agency), 

Terroristic Threats

Many people get angry at organizations. Public facilities from courthouses to libraries to restaurants have various restrictions in place. Frequently, these restrictions change with little or no notice, or at least maybe you did not hear about it. Additionally, an organization usually decides which restrictions to strictly enforce, and which ones to let slide. Once again, these priorities can change suddenly and unexpectedly. 

This anger and frustration can lead to inappropriate outbursts, usually in person or online. These outbursts could constitute terroristic threats under Title 39 of the Tennessee Code. Terroristic threats have several basic elements:

  • An intentional, “unequivocal, unconditional, and specific” threat
  • To cause serious injuries or deaths (note the plural),
  • Which reasonably causes at least one person to be afraid.

This list is maybe most notable for what is not on it. Defendants need not do anything to be charged with making a terroristic threat. Some laws require at least one overt act, but not in Tennessee. In fact, the defendant need not even have the ability to carry out the threat.

These cases usually hinge on a reasonable fear. Given the current environment, the universe of reasonable fears has expanded significantly. 

Generally, the complaining witness must testify in court. Procuring this testimony could be a problem. Many witnesses quickly lose interest in these cases, especially if the defendant’s “threat” amounted to nothing but fear and irritation. Prosecutors can subpoena witnesses and force them to testify against their will. But that’s not always legally possible. Additionally, if it happens, jurors often believe that the state is trying to railroad the defendant.

Note we said “generally.” Sometimes, prosecutors try to use an obscure exception to the hearsay rule to introduce the police report into evidence. This “Hail Mary” pass usually falls short.

Terroristic threats are usually felonies. So, a conviction could mean substantial prison time. Because of the aforementioned proof problems, an attorney can usually resolve these charges successfully. That’s especially true if, as is usually the case, there is a very long gap between the arrest date and the trial date. 

On a related note, an ABT (Assault By Threat) could mean civil liability. Assault is not just a crime in Tennessee. It is also a personal injury tort. Civil liability is usually limited to compensation for economic losses, such as medical bill, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. In ABT cases, these damages are usually low. However, no one wants to be dragged into court for any reason. If you aren’t careful, you could end up committing another ABT or even a terroristic threat.

Personal Threats

Most people know that physical injury is not an element of assault in Tennessee. However, many people do not know that physical action is also not an element of this charge.

39-13-101 is based on common-law assault. Contrary to that old saying, although words are not sticks and stones, they can hurt you. They can also support criminal charges if you make a credible threat which scares someone.

We talked about reasonable fear above. Assault, unlike terroristic threat, has an additional credible threat element. The pre-Super Soldier serum Steve Rogers could not rip your head off. The post-serum Rogers probably had that ability. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F020aNi0wS0

Frequently, the defendant and complaining witness do not know each other well. Assume Steve, who is prone to hyperbole, threatens to bust a chair over Tony’s head. SInce these two go way back, Tony probably knows that Steve’s “threat” is not legitimate. But if Steve threatens to bust a chair over Peter’s head, whom Steve barely knows, Peter might reasonably be afraid.

ABT (Assault By Threat) is normally a misdemeanor. So, pretrial diversion is often an option in these cases. If the defendant stays out of trouble for a few months and jumps through a few other hoops, prosecutors often dismiss the charges.

Virtual Harassment and Stalking

A few years ago, these cases were almost unheard of. Now, (Montgomery County bail bonds) Fizer Bonding Company, see many more of them. Many people are working from home. As such, office behavioral constraints are gone. People say things and do things over the internet that they would never do in person.

Such behavior could constitute cyberbullying. There are basically two types of electronic threats in Tennessee:

  • Harassment is maliciously posting a message intended as a threat which sparks a reasonable fear.
  • Stalking is repeatedly contacting a person electronically. The repeated contacts need not be malicious or even threatening. Technically speaking, sending repeated e-gift cards could be cyber stalking in Tennessee.

These offenses are generally misdemeanors. If the alleged victim was under 18, these offenses are felonies.

There is a related civil statute. Schools must have written policies which prohibit cyberbullying. Students, parents, and/or teachers who violate such policies could face civil or criminal penalties.

If you or a loved one was arrested for a “fighting words” offense, contact Fizer Bonding Company 24/7 (bail bond near me). Our family-owned bonding service has filled the bonding needs of Montgomery and Robertson Counties for over 40 years. Fizer Bonding Company is a proud member of the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents. For more info about Fizer Bonding Company bail bonds, click here.

“We’ll get your tail outta jail!”

Fizer Bonding Company in Montgomery County Tennessee

(931) 449-9351

Fizer Bonding Company in Robertson County Tennessee

(615) 667-1109

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