In the US, can attaching a condition to a threat have any bearing on whether it's a true threat or not? In other words, is there are difference between the following threats, in terms of criminal law:

  • I'll hit you! (unconditional)
  • If you speak to me again, I'll hit you! (conditioned on something that the other person is perfectly entitled to do)
  • If you try to steal my car, I'll hit you! (conditioned on the other person's criminal behavior)
  • If you violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics, I'll hit you! (conditioned on something impossible)
  • 2
    Can you state a jurisdiction, so a better answer can be offered. The law often varies from place to place.
    – sharur
    Mar 11 '20 at 21:18


Tuberville v Savage ([1669] EWHC KB J25)

"If it were not assize-time, I would not take such language from you." (said while grabbing the handle of sword)

According to this article, conditional threats are not considered a true threat.

The court held that a conditional threatening statement, without an imminent threat of harm, does not constitute an assault.

Here is a similar Law.SE question and answers. Did Zoey Tur assault Ben Shapiro?

  • I would add that you can't evaluate whether or not a threat is a "true threat" purely based upon the words used. Body language, tone of voice, and context are also relevant and could make words that are facially a threat something that isn't actually a threat, or could turn something that is superficially a conditional non-threat into a genuine true threat. Words don't always take their literal or common meaning in all contexts and usually a finder of fact at trial would get to evaluate that question.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 12 '20 at 6:48
  • Good point - for that reason, I'm asking specifically about the difference that the addition of the conditional clause makes. In other words, assume that my first example is a true threat, and that all the other examples are identical in every way except for the added condition.
    – John B
    Mar 12 '20 at 13:20

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