Angry Rant or Terror Threat? How Pennsylvania Criminalizes Texts and Emails

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Apr 04, 2023 | 0 Comments

Many of us have done it – typed an angry email or text in response to a heated situation, and then, instead of hitting the ‘delete' button like we probably should have, we hit ‘send.' In most cases, the worst that happens is a strained relationship with the recipient, but in some cases, where the content of the message is threatening enough, it can result in serious criminal charges.

There are two main types of situations where the content of a text or an email can result in criminal charges in Pennsylvania. One is where the message constitutes harassment, and the other is where it contains what the law calls a “terroristic threat.”

Harassment in Pennsylvania

Criminal harassment situations typically arise when one person repeatedly contacts another individual “with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another,” but the law also covers a single email or text that includes “threatening or obscene words.” Penalties for harassment can range from a “summary offense” – a relatively low-level offense – to a third-degree misdemeanor that can bring a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2000.

Terroristic Threats in Pennsylvania

A far more serious charge that can result from a threatening email or text message is the crime of “Terroristic Threat.” This can result from a text or email that threatens to “commit a crime of violence with intent to terrorize another.” It can also arise if the email or text causes a building to be evacuated or causes some other “public inconvenience.” The crime is a first-degree misdemeanor with potential prison time of up to five years and a possible fine of between $1500 and $10,000, except where the email or text actually causes a building to be evacuated. In that case, it's a third-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to seven years in prison and a potential fine of between $2500 and $15,000.

What to do if You've Been Charged with Harassment or Terroristic Threats

Obviously, the first thing to do if you are being investigated or have been charged with harassment or with sending messages that are terroristic threats is to stop sending any messages of that type immediately. This might seem obvious, but in many cases where someone feels very strongly about a situation, they find it can be very difficult to stop communicating about it. The simple fact is that there is very little chance that you will make things better by continuing to communicate and a very real chance that you'll make things worse.

The second thing you should do is to contact an experienced attorney who knows this area of the law and can help you defend yourself against the charges. Very often, what people write in the heat of the moment is not entirely clear, and can be subject to a range of interpretations. A skilled attorney can help police, prosecutors, and, where necessary, juries understand this.

The LLF Law Firm Can Help

The LLF Law Firm has years of experience defending clients against a wide range of criminal charges in Pennsylvania. They know and understand the criminal laws and procedures that apply in harassment and terroristic threat cases, and the LLF Law Firm Criminal Defense Team can help you defend your rights if you've been charged with a crime as a result of emails or text messages. If you are under investigation or have been charged with a crime because of your text messages or emails, call the LLF Law Firm as soon as possible at 888.535.3686 or through the contact form.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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