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Threats via Text Punished More Severely than In-Person Threats

by | Jul 4, 2023 | Violent Crime |

Virginia has criminalized making a verbal threat in a number of criminal laws in the Virginia Code. Interestingly, with only a few narrow exceptions, making a threat to harm another orally and in-person to an individual is not outlawed by the code of Virginia, while making a threat to harm in writing via text or in another written form is a felony offense.

Section 18.2-60 of the Virginia Code makes it a felony to make a threat of death or bodily harm to another in writing, including through text message. Likewise, threatening an individual orally over the telephone is a misdemeanor offense in Virginia under Section 18.2-427. Ironically, unless the individual is making a threat to burn or bomb a place of assembly, school, or threatens an abduction, it is not a crime to make an oral threat so long as it is said in-person.

This conflict in Virginia law incentivizes bad actors to make their threats orally and in-person, a scenario which seems more likely to result in violence than an exchange of threatening text messages. The contradiction between the criminal laws on oral and in person threats versus written threats represents a blind spot that the state legislators may seek to remedy in future sessions.