Freedom of speech is one of the most basic American rights. After all, it is a right guaranteed in the very first Amendment to the Constitution.
Many people misunderstand what freedom of speech means. Your right to freedom of speech means that the government cannot prohibit you from freely expressing yourself verbally or in writing.
However, freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences. You can face personal, professional and even criminal consequences for the way that you use your freedom of speech. Hate speech, inciting others to violence and harassment are all examples of speech that could have legal consequences.
Words you say to make someone afraid can also have repercussions. Threatening others online or in face-to-face altercations could lead to criminal charges even if you never actually hurt the other person.
Threatening language can be a form of assault
Assault is a violent offense that causes bodily harm to someone or puts them in fear of imminent bodily harm. You don’t have to actually strike someone in order to face assault charges. They only need to have felt credible fear for their own safety to ask the state to charge you with assault.
If you threaten them or their spouse with a physical injury during a verbal argument, your statements could constitute assault. While you may have known that you would never actually hurt the other people, they may have truly feared for their safety as a result of your words and behavior. Their fear and not your actual intent is what determines whether an assault took place.
Verbal assault is usually a Class D misdemeanor offense
If you get charged with assault due to threatening words, there could be real consequences for your speech. An assault charge stemming from verbal threats will be the lowest degree offense or Class C misdemeanor. While there isn’t a risk of incarceration, you could have to pay a fine of as much as $500. There’s also the criminal record to consider.
Although you may think that an offense without jail time attached is minor, having a violent offense on your record could limit your opportunities for the rest of your life. Defending yourself against an assault charge can be a way to protect your future.