What Constitutes Criminal Threats in California
As a criminal defense attorney, I often defend clients who are facing charges for criminal threats. Formerly knowns as terrorist threats, Penal Code 422 criminal threats do not involve any actual physical harm to the victim but merely a fear of harm that was conveyed by the Defendant.
This often confuses clients because a person can be charged with a crime without ever lifting a finger to harm anyone. Many times, criminal threat charges will arise out of domestic violence cases or from a dispute that did not rise to the level of physical and often it is charged a crime along with crimes such as assault and battery.
The Law Regarding Criminal Threats in California
Criminal threats are covered by California Penal Code Section 422. Under Penal Code § 422 it is a criminal act to:
- Willfully threaten to commit a crime to another person that will result in death or great bodily harm to that person or their immediate family.
- With the intent that the statement is to be taken as a threat by the other person.
- It makes no difference if the speaker does not intend to actually carry out the criminal threat.
- The threat can be made by any means of communication, including electronic communications such as text, email or fax.
Examples of Criminal Threats in California Under Penal Code 422
- A person threatens to beat up or kill another person or his family during an altercation. The altercation takes place in person and is said verbally.
- A person threatens to hurt another person via email or text message because of a dispute.
- A person threatens to harm another person’s wife and kids if he doesn’t do what the speaker wants him to.
The Criminal Threat Must Be Specific and Immediate Enough So That The Listener Fears it Will Be Carried Out
There has been a lot of interpretation in the law regarding this requirement for criminal threats. It is definitely a criminal threat under California Penal Code § 422 if one person says to the other “I’m going to kill you!” but there are less obvious statements that may not qualify as criminal threats in California.
For example, painting a picture of a person shooting the threatened person may not be considered a threat. Likewise, saying “I’m going to get you” may or may not be enough to constitute a criminal threat in California depending on the circumstances.
That is why when if a person is charged with criminal threats in California, it is important that they consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney on their case.
The Person Hearing the Criminal Threat Must Reasonably Fear The Harm Threatened
It is not enough to merely threaten a person or their family with harm to be a criminal threat in California. The person threatened must actually and reasonably fear that this harm will come to be.
For instance, if a 12-year-old child threatens to beat up a heavy weight boxer, no reasonable person will think that the boxer actually had a fear of harm. Not only does the threatened person have to fear harm, but that harm must also be reasonable.
In the example that I cite, no reasonable person would think a 12-year-old is a threat to beat up a heavy weight boxer so there can be no charge of criminal threats. Most examples are not that obvious and it is always a good idea to consult with a criminal attorney regarding your specific case.
Punishment For Criminal Threats Under California Penal Code § 422
California Penal Code 422 Criminal Threats is a wobbler offense. That means it can be filed as either a felony or a misdemeanor. Many times, having a criminal lawyer take on the case at the earliest possible time can mean the difference between the two. This will make a huge difference in the maximum possible punishment for criminal threats, as you can see below:
If the criminal threat charge is a misdemeanor the maximum that a person can be sentenced to is:
- Probation with a maximum county jail sentence of 364 days.
If the criminal threat is a felony, the maximum that a person can be sentenced to is:
- If probation is granted, a county jail sentence of 364 days; or
- If probation is denied, up to 3 years in State Prison.
When you or someone you love is facing charges of criminal threats in California, no amount of online research can replace a consultation with a criminal attorney. Having, an experienced criminal lawyer review your specific case and advise you on possible defenses and approaches to a criminal threats charge can be the difference between jail time and freedom.
Vitaly Sigal is a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles. He has specialized in the field of criminal defense for over 20 years and is the founder and principal of Sigal Law Group. For a free consultation with Mr. Sigal call 818 325-0570 or email him directly here