Terroristic threat is an offense that is frequently charged in the Greater Houston area. It can be charged when a person makes a threat of inflicting violence against a person or against property with a specific criminal intent, and in a number of other situations. Most terroristic threat cases in the Greater Houston area are filed as misdemeanors, but the consequences can still be severe. This article addresses many frequently asked questions relating to terroristic threat cases.
What are the types of terroristic threat cases?
Under Texas Penal Code 22.07, terroristic threat can be committed in multiple ways. However, by far the most common way terrorist threat is charged is when a suspect is accused of threatening to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with the intent to place any person in fear of imminent bodily injury. The other types of terroristic threat generally involve threats made against large groups of people, public utilities, or the branches or agencies of government.
What are the potential consequences for terroristic threat?
The potential punishment of a terroristic threat case depends on how it is alleged the threat was made. Terroristic threat cases range from class “B” misdemeanors to third-degree felonies.
As noted, the most common type of terroristic threat case involves violent threats made against people or property. This type of threat constitutes a class “B” offense punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2000 fine. However, if the threat is committed against a member of the person’s family or household, or is made against a public servant, terroristic threat will be treated as a class “A” misdemeanor, punishable by up to 360 days in jail and a $4000 fine.
What bond conditions can I expect?
The bond conditions a defendant can expect in a terroristic threat case will depend on the allegation, the defendant’s criminal history and the judge. At a minimum, most judges in the Greater Houston area will order that a defendant engage in no additional threatening or harassing behavior. In many instances, a judge will order a defendant have no contact with the complaining witness (i.e., the victim), or go near their home or place of business. Due to these conditions, many defendants have to leave the home while the case is pending, or until a criminal defense attorney can persuade a judge to modify the bond conditions.
If the case involves violence, it is possible that a protective order could be issued under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure 17.292. Depending on what the bond conditions are, however, the conditions in the protective order are frequently redundant (in other words, cover the same things) as the bond conditions. Additionally, protective orders expire in 60 or 90 days.
Other common conditions imposed include no guns, no drugs or alcohol, random urinalysis and even restrictive conditions such as GPS monitoring. It is important to have a criminal defense lawyer advocating for you when these conditions are set. For example, if there is no allegation that drugs or alcohol were involved in the terroristic threat case, then there is no reason that random drug tests should be a bond condition.
How can my criminal defense attorney get my bond conditions modified in a terroristic threat case?
If you have been assessed bond conditions in your terroristic threat case, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to get them modified for you. The most common bond condition that can create a major problem for defendants is the protective order or bond conditions prohibiting contact, or going to a specific address.
In the Houston area, most judges will want to hear from the complaining witness before modifying a condition meant to protect the complaining witness in a terroristic threat case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be familiar with a judge’s requirements and the best way to approach a request that these conditions be modified.
What are some defense strategies for terroristic threat cases?
There are a wide variety of defenses that your criminal defense lawyer can employ in a terroristic threat case. If the threat was communicated electronically, sometimes it can be difficult for the State to prove who actually sent the threat.
In many cases, the language of the alleged threat might not meet the definition of a terroristic threat under Texas law. According to Texas cases, the offense of terroristic threat is completed if the accused, by his threat, intended to place a person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. But sometimes the language used in the threat suggests that the threat is not imminent. I have obtained the dismissal of terroristic threat cases in the past where a judge ruled during a probable cause hearing, that a threat was conditional, meaning that it would only materialize if certain conditions were met.
If it appears that the State can prove the terroristic threat, a criminal defense attorney can explore other options. One option might be a pre-trial diversion. A pre-trial diversion is a contract with the State that if certain conditions are met, then your case would get dismissed, and in most cases, you would be eligible to have your records expunged. Typically, a pre-trial diversion is only an option in a terroristic threat case only if you have minimal criminal history, the alleged conduct is not egregious, and the complaining witness is at least neutral.
If your case is not dismissed and pre-trial diversion is not an option, then your remaining options typically include a probation or a trial. There are two forms of probation available in a terroristic threat case – regular probation or deferred adjudication probation. Whether or not trial is right in your case depends on how likely you are to win, what the offer is, and what the potential punishment might be in the event you are convicted.
How long will my terroristic threat case last?
Properly defending a criminal case can take several months or close to a year. No matter what the charge, it will always be necessary for your criminal defense attorney to obtain the evidence. In a terroristic threat case, this usually includes an offense report, 911 call, videos and witness statements. In the Houston area, obtaining evidence typically takes at least 3-6 months depending on the law enforcement agencies and District Attorney’s offices involved. Once the evidence is received, your criminal defense lawyer should sit down and review it with you so that you may make an informed decision as to how to proceed with your case. Due to current backlogs of cases, going to trial in a terroristic threat in the Houston area can often take a year or more.
How can I keep a terroristic threat case off of my record?
In Texas, there are two ways to “clean” your record after a terroristic threat arrest – an expunction or a non-disclosure. An expunction is much better since the records of the offense are literally destroyed, as if the offense had never happened. However, you are only eligible for an expunction if your case is dismissed or if you go to trial and are found “not guilty.”
A non-disclosure (also referred to as getting your records “sealed”) is available if you successfully complete a deferred adjudication probation. As noted above, a deferred adjudication is a type of probation that, if completed successfully, does not leave a permanent conviction on your record. Getting a non-disclosure prevents most private entities from being able to see a record of the offense, so for many people, this is a good option. But because the records of the terroristic threat arrest still exist, the government and many professional licensing agencies can see the arrest, this is not nearly as good as an expunction.
Is there anything I can do to help my case?
If you have been arrested for terroristic threat it is understandable that you may want to be proactive and do what you can to maximize your chance at obtaining a good result. To help your case, you should strictly obey your bond conditions, in particular, any bond conditions having to do with not contacting the complaining witness. If you violate a protective order, you could be charged with a new offense or be held in jail without bond while your case is completed. Additionally, you will be making it more difficult to obtain a good result in your case because a prosecutor will be less likely to believe that the behavior that led to your arrest was an isolated incident.
Sometimes it is advisable that a defendant seek therapy and treatment to deal with any emotional issues that may have led to a threat being made. Most therapists are willing to write letters on behalf of their patients that a criminal defense attorney can present to the District Attorney’s Office to show that the emotional issue that led to the terroristic threat has been proactively addressed. Before beginning a course of therapy or taking any other steps on your own, it is very important that you discuss your situation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor and has obtained outstanding results for his clients in terroristic threat cases. Every situation is unique and Mr. Ceja is happy to offer you a free consultation. Contact our office today.