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What is a Verbal Threat? - Definition, Examples & Laws

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  • 0:04 A Common Scenario
  • 0:31 Verbal Threats
  • 1:15 Examples of Criminal Threats
  • 2:03 The Law
  • 3:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Many people have verbally threatened someone at one point or another. This lesson will distinguish between harmless and criminal verbal threatening, provide examples, and discuss laws designed to protect those who are threatened.

A Common Scenario

Angie and Darren have had a tumultuous relationship for years. Angie finally calls it quits but Darren can't let go. He is constantly texting Angie with insulting remarks and telling her if he can't be in a relationship with her, then no one can. One day Angie receives a text from Darren that seems rather ominous. He tells her that if she doesn't agree to come back to him, he'll stab her. Angie, afraid for her life, calls the police.

Verbal Threats

Many people have threatened someone else verbally at one point or another. Parents tell their children to be quiet or else. Husbands and wives threaten to leave a relationship. Verbal threats, like the one Darren directed towards Angie, however, are different. These types of threats are menacing and criminal in nature. A verbal threat becomes a criminal threat under the following circumstances:

  • The threat indicates that another will suffer imminent physical harm
  • The threat is directed towards a witness that's scheduled to testify in a court action
  • The threat is specific
  • There is evidence that the threat will be carried out
  • There is evidence that the threat made is genuine
  • The threat alters the lifestyle or quality of life of the threatened person

Examples of Criminal Threats

Here are some specific examples of what would be considered a criminal verbal threat:

  • Sending an email to an ex telling him or her you're coming to kill him or her and the entire family
  • Calling someone and telling him or her you're going to kidnap his or her child
  • Posting on social media that you have an intention to physically beat someone you don't like

However, it's important to note that not all threats are considered criminal. For example, threatening to steal someone's car when the person doesn't even have one wouldn't be considered a criminal threat. Another instance where a verbal threat wouldn't be considered criminal is where the person who was threatened doesn't actually feel threatened or that they are in any type of danger. Finally, sticking up your middle finger in anger after someone cuts you off doesn't qualify either.

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