Threatening someone with legal action might be as American as baseball and apple pie. It’s been said that the U.S. is a litigious society, often in criticism of the amount and kinds of lawsuits that get filed throughout the U.S. While the legitimacy of this criticism seems to lay in the eye of the beholder, one can’t ignore that the phrases “I’ll sue!” or “I’ll press charges!” can simultaneously evoke an eye roll and a shiver down the spine.
Although threatening to take civil or criminal legal action against someone can easily roll off the tongue in the heat of the moment, it’s worth reflecting on the potential legality of these utterances. After all, we often say things like these when we wish to punish someone for some real or perceived sleight – but can saying them get us into legal trouble of our own?
Extortion & Blackmail
While threatening to file a civil lawsuit or press criminal charges isn’t inherently illegal in Texas, criminal charges can follow under the “right” conditions.
In Texas, blackmail occurs when someone manipulates another person to act in a certain manner under the threat of releasing information about the latter that may be private, sensitive, or damaging to them. While this definition doesn’t completely fit the mold where legal action is threatened to coerce action on the behalf of someone else, it’s not far from it either.
One can also commit extortion if their threats to take legal action are intended to deprive someone else of their property. Although extortion can be difficult to prove, it’s still a crime and one may be incarcerated if charged and convicted.
Threatening legal action can also lead to criminal harassment charges when the threats are repeated and made via telephone or electronically through text message, email, social media, or elsewhere on the Internet.
Under these conditions, threatening to sue or press criminal charges is illegal if the intent is to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, or embarrass someone else. Charges for blackmail and extortion can also be filed if one’s behavior meets the requirements for those crimes.
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