Can the police arrest someone for assault merely on a verbal threat? Under Tennessee's criminal laws, someone can be charged for simple assault under three different theories. One of those theories is discussed under T.C.A. 39-13-101(a)(2). Here is the wording of the statute:
"Intentionally or knowingly causes another to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury"
Note that there is no requirement for an actual touching or an actual injury. Words alone are enough to trigger an assault charge. In Downtown Nashville and across Tennessee, you might hear "I am going to kick your ass." Is that a criminal offense? First, you must examine each part of the statute. Was the threat intentional or knowing, or was it just talk? Second, did the person reasonably fear imminent bodily injury?
The mental elements of intentional and knowing are defined under T.C.A. 39-11-106. I, however, want to focus on the word imminent. I recently had a case where the threat was made by phone. Was that imminent? Black's Law Dictionary defines "imminent" as near at hand, close, impending, and on the point of happening. All too often I see this charge brought in domestic violence cases where the threat is made by phone or even text message, but does that meet the statutory requirement for an assault conviction?
If you have been charged with this type of criminal offense, please contact our office to discuss your options. The punishment can be up to eleven months and 29 days in jail.