Most of U.S. law hinges around the idea that the Constitution protects the right to free speech, and in the strong majority of situations, a person can say what they wish without fear of reprisal. However, there are some rare situations in which mere words can be punished, especially when they communicate conduct that might be threatening in itself. Being charged with threatening in the first or second degree has become more common than it used to be, especially in situations involving bullying or domestic violence, and the consequences can be severe.
There Are Limits to Free Speech
While most people may think that speech is only punished under authoritarian regimes, the reality is that U.S. law has had what it calls time, place, and manner restrictions on free speech since the beginning - particularly when it comes to what is called ‘fighting words.’ The fighting words doctrine is an idea developed in 20th-century cases, essentially holding that any kind of speech that is an incitement to “imminent lawless action” or retaliation of any kind is not protected by the First Amendment.
Connecticut courts have also sometimes invoked what is known as the “true threat” doctrine to decide whether or not to charge someone with criminal threatening. A statement is a true threat if it is comprised of words that the speaker intentionally uses to illustrate a present or future wish to inflict bodily harm on another person. The threat must also be genuine - that is, a reasonable person must get the impression that they will soon be the victim of harm if the threat is carried out. Either of these doctrines can be applied to threatening cases, especially in domestic violence matters where there is an enhanced likelihood of threat against the alleged victim....