The California Penal Code has clearly defined criminal threats, which fall under Section 422 of the Code. According to the definition, a criminal threat is threatening to kill or grievously injure a person. This threat has to be intentional with the idea of adding the fear of being killed or injured.
Criminal threats can be a felony or misdemeanor, and both attract severe penalties that can have an extremely adverse effect on your life including that of your loved ones. Whether you make a threat in person, writing or using an electronic device, it is considered a criminal threat, hence it is a criminal offense.
Be careful of what you say in the heat of the moment. Even if you have no intentions of carrying out the threat, it is still considered an offense and you can be charged for it. As long as the words uttered by you make a person believe it is a threat, you can be prosecuted for it. So even if you utter a threat in anger, it will be construed as a criminal threat.
Examples of Criminal Threats
Here are some examples of threats that are considered a criminal offense under California criminal laws:
- When your girlfriend breaks up with you and gets into a new relationship, you threaten to kill her current boyfriend
- If you are fired from your job, you send an email to your ex-boss telling him he would have to pay for the mistake of firing you and you know where he lives.
Prosecuting for Criminal Threats
The onus of proving you issued a criminal threat lies on the prosecution. The prosecution would have to prove the following in order to show the court your guilt:
- You deliberately threatened to kill a person or his/her family
- You intentionally threatened to cause bodily harm to a person or his/her family
- You uttered the words in such a manner that you wanted the person to construe them as a threat
- When you uttered the threat, it was clear and unmistakable and the person was worried that you would carry out the threat
- Your threatening words caused the person to fear for his/her safety or that of their loved ones
- The person's fear was justifiable given the circumstances your words were uttered in
When is a Threat Not a Criminal Threat?
There are times when threats do not constitute criminal threats. For instance, when your threats are vague and the person does not fear for his/her safety or that of their loves ones, it is not considered a criminal threat.
It is prudent to remember when a threat is conditioned, it is not deemed as a criminal threat.
Other Instances When Threats are Not Criminal Threats
Irrational Fear: When a person expresses unreasonable fear of an unrealistic threat, it is not considered criminal threat. For example, if you inform a person you have super powers like Ironman and will unleash your powers on the person, causing the person to become irrationally afraid of your threat, you can't be convicted for criminal threats.
No Fear: If you issue a threat, but it doesn't evoke fear in the person, you cannot be charged and convicted for criminal threat. One of the basic requirements for being charged is feeling intense fear for one's safety because of the threat.
Momentary Fear: There are instances when people make threats, but the other person forgets about it soon afterwards. Under such circumstances, you cannot be charged for a criminal threat. Remember, one of the requirements for being charged for criminal threat is causing long-lasting fear in the person.
Not Communicating the Threat: If you don't convey the threat to the person, it doesn't constitute as a criminal threat. This means you don't threaten the person in writing, orally or using an electronic device.
Getting Convicted for Making Criminal Threats
Now that you know when you can't be charged or convicted for making a criminal threat, it is time to understand when you CAN be convicted for this offense. Here are some instances when you can be charged and convicted for this crime:
- Terrorizing another person with your threat
- Causing serious inconvenience to the public
- Getting a building, public facility or transportation or public gathering evacuated with your threat
- Having complete disregard of the risk and convenience caused to person or people
If you are convicted in accordance with the California Penal Code 422 for criminal threat, you will have to pay the cost to the party threatened by you. This restitution is the cost the threatened person or party incurs. The financial aspect of conviction can become burdensome and that is why you need a qualified and experienced criminal law attorney who knows how California laws work and can take steps to ensure you don't have to unnecessary pay restitution.
Penalties for Criminal Threats
If you are arrested for criminal threats, under the California Penal Code 422, you can be charged with felony or misdemeanor. The penalty you receive depends on two main factors:
- Your criminal history
- Facts related to the case
If you receive a misdemeanor charge, you could face a jail sentence of up to 1 year. On the other hand, if you are charged with felony, you could face a prison sentence in the state penitentiary for up to 4 years.
Conditions Under Which the Penalty Can Increase
There are certain instances where the penalty you receive for criminal threat conviction can be enhanced. These include the following:
- Three Strike State: California is a three-strike state. So, if you have a felony conviction, it is considered a strike in the state and when the strike reaches three, you will have to necessarily face a prison sentence of minimum 25 years to life. Before you become eligible for release it is a must to serve at least 85 percent of your sentence.
- Being Armed: If you are armed with a dangerous weapon while making the threat, your prison sentence increases by a year. This is invoked only when you have been charged with a felony crime.
- Domestic Violence: Besides willfully threatening your partner or spouse, you also resort to domestic violence, you could be fined up to $2,000 and be sentenced to one year jail sentence.
- Prevent Victim or Witness from Testifying: If you try and prevent the victim or witness from testifying against you, you will be charged with not only criminal threat, but also deterring the witness or victim.
- Gang Involvement: If you are part of a criminal street gang and you threaten someone to benefit or help the gang, besides being convicted of criminal threat, you also could face an additional prison sentence of 5, 10 or 25 years to life.
Finding the Right Legal Defense
If you are charged with criminal threats, you shouldn't take it lightly. This is a serious charge and you require a criminal lawyer, who has the experience, knowledge and expertise to strategize a defense plan and fight the charge.
We are an expert criminal threats law firm that boasts of a highly knowledgeable and skilled criminal threats attorney who has an in-depth understanding of the California Penal Code and can create an effective defense strategy to help your case.
Don't let criminal threats charge ruin your life and future. Call the Law Offices of Jeff Voll right away at 323-467-6400 to get the proper defense and protect your rights.