It is never a welcome or pleasant situation to be verbally threatened. Understanding your rights and how to proceed is very important for protecting your next steps. It can be very frustrating in the moment to deal with being verbally threatened, but how you respond is just as important. This means that it is strongly recommended that you remain calm in the situation and communicate with an experienced and dedicated lawyer.
Being verbally threatened does not always rise to the level of assault, although it can. It is important to firstly understand what assault is, as defined by the law.
Assault is a crime that is classified at the state level. Different states have varying levels of actions or even threats that could potentially meet the terms of assault. Assault is the basis of a civil case, and it can also be found in criminal law to charge and prosecute someone with criminal allegations.
If someone verbally threatens you but such is only the beginning of their harassment, this could form the basis of a serious criminal or civil allegation. Be prepared to talk to a lawyer about your next steps.
Assault and Threats: What to Know
The basic definition of assault is the same regardless of whether this is a civil or criminal lawsuit, but the specific definition for both criminal and civil purposes will vary from one region to another. It's important to understand your local and state laws about these issues to determine whether or not verbal threats are classified as assault. Usually, assault can be thought of as an intentional act that puts another person in reasonable fear or immediate harm due to another person's actions.
Assault is frequently confused with another crime known as battery, since the two often appear in criminal statutes together. The things necessary to prove assault will depend on your state's specific laws, but usually verbal threats are not considered an act of assault. A verbal threat is an actual statement made to another person in which the speaker declares that they expect to cause that person loss, punishment, or harm.
This may sound very similar to the actions categorized under assault, but simply saying threatening words with no other actions does not necessarily count as an assault. There are certain situations, for example, where those words could become important. For example, if a person verbally threatens you while holding a gun or other weapon, this could be classified as a verbal assault.
In most cases, verbal threats become a crime when the speaker's threat is unambiguous and specific, when a listener:
has reasonable expectation that the person saying it will act on it
when the speaker says that threat electronically, in writing, verbally
when the speaker intends to kill or harm the person hearing the threat or their family.
If someone verbally threatens you, it is strongly recommended that you report this to the police. This is because in the future, if there are other allegations against this person, or other instances of actual assault, stalking, or similar behaviors, you can use this verbal threat as part of your overall case.
In some situations, it can become an issue of hearsay in criminal courts, so you need to be prepared to understand the distinctions between civil and criminal interpretations of verbal threats. If you have been verbally assaulted at work, you need to take the next step to report the incident to human resources as well. This can help to protect your rights and ensure that the matter has gone on record, so that if future instances happen, you have solid grounds on which to argue that you attempted to make the employer aware multiple times of the person's dangerous or threatening behavior.
For your own safety, it is also a good idea to always take a verbal threat seriously, even if the other person alleges that it wasn't serious or that it was a joke. It is never a joke to make a verbal threat against someone else.
If you have reason to fear for your safety, you might want to take extra precautions when having to be around this person or in your life in general. An example might be installing security cameras on your property. Filing a police report might not lead to immediate criminal charges or even be enough for a civil case, but it does help to represent a pattern and that you were concerned for your safety, should you need to reference this instance later in court.
In all of these circumstances, it can be very helpful to have the guidance of an experienced lawyer to guide you through the process and to help you with these aspects of your claim. There's so many different things to think about when someone threatens you. It is always an unfortunate and unwelcome experience, but you need to be prepared to respond accordingly to best protect your interests.