Watch Your Mouth!! -Making Terroristic Threats

Let me start with two examples. A few months ago a patient at a deep East Texas dialysis center was chit-chatting with an aide while she was at the dialysis facility and taking her treatment. Somehow the conversation changed to the number of recent deaths of dialysis patients at the facility. The patient then made the statement, “If something happens to me on dialysis I’ll come back from the grave and get somebody.” The aide reported the comment to a superior. The superior called the police. The woman was discharged permanently from dialysis treatment at that facility. The police advised the woman that such comments could be viewed as terroristic and that she was advised never to say any such thing again.

Another woman worked at a public library in yet another deep East Texas town. She had worked for the library for over 25 years but continually bumped heads with a newly hired female librarian. After a “run in” with the librarian one morning when words were exchanged over some library policy, the long-standing employee walked away, passed another co-worker and mumbled, “If I had my gun I would shoot this bitch.” The co-worker reported the comments to the librarian who reported it to her superior. The long standing employee was quickly fired for making terroristic threats, but police was not called.

We now live in a post 9-11 world in which certain remarks that were once uttered, sometimes as a joke, other times to let off steam, can now land you in big trouble. As the old saying goes, you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater. You cannot stand in line to board an airplane especially and make idle talk about having a bomb in your shoes—or underwear. Such talk will now land you in jail.

Texas has a “dragnet” Terroristic Threats statute found at Texas Penal Code 22.07. It says in summary that a person commits the offence of making “terroristic threats” if he or she “threatens to commit any offence involving violence to any person or property” if he makes such threats with intent to cause a reaction of any type to his or her threats by an agency organized to deal with emergencies; prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building, room, place of assembly, place of work, aircraft, automobile or any public space, cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas, power supply or public service, place the public or a substantial group of the public in fear of serious bodily injury, or influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or political subdivision; or threatens to commit any offence involving violence against a member of a person’s family or household, or other commit family violence, or a public servant.

So, what this sweeping statute means it that you cannot get angry with an ex and threaten to return to her or his house, and “burn this MF down.” You cannot tell someone at your workplace that you will, “blow up this joint.” Even if you are joking or do not have the means to commit any harm to anyone, you can face a terroristic threats charge. You cannot make innuendos about what you may “come back” and do if it sounds like a threat—idle or otherwise. If a woman can be charged with making a terroristic threat for saying that she would come back from the grave and “get somebody” then any threat of any sort to anyone, about anything, can be characterized as making a terroristic threat. Remember the 1978 very danceable disco song by the Trammps, called Burn Baby Burn, Disco Inferno. Well the lyrics, “Burn baby burn, burn that mother down” would probably land the artists in jail if they recorded it today. Watch your mouth!

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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