No one wants to live in fear. That's what the law about criminal threats intends to prevent. California PC 422 outlines the crime of criminal threats. According to the law, a threat becomes a criminal offense when you threaten to harm or kill another person.
You can face charges for criminal threats when you intend to place someone in fear of being killed or sustaining severe injuries. In California, the court considers the crime a wobble. So the prosecutor can file it as either a felony or misdemeanor. You want to seek legal help when charged with the crime as soon as possible.
A competent criminal defense lawyer can help you fight the charges. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we have committed decades of legal practice across Los Angeles, CA. We are committed and dedicated to offering legal advocacy and assistance to those facing criminal threat charges. We understand that you are undergoing difficult times for your family members.
The Legal Meaning of "Criminal Threat"
Under California PC 422, a criminal threat involves a threat to cause harm or even kill another person. In response, the victim fears the threatened act will take place. You can deliver a criminal threat verbally, electronically, or in a written format.
The court does not consider the mode of communication provided the threats occurred. When you face charges for criminal threats, you want to work with a criminal defense attorney throughout the legal process.
The Elements of Criminal Threats
You are guilty of criminal threats when the following occurs: you purposely threatened or attempted to threaten to cause harm to another person, and your communication was verbal, written, or electronic. You made the threats in specific, immediate, and unconditional circumstances.
Due to the threats, the victim fears harm or injury to their immediate family. The prosecution team must also show you were purposely addressing the victim. Below is an explanation of the elements of criminal threats:
You Inflicted Fear to the Victim: The Fear was Reasonable and Actual
The court cannot find you guilty of criminal threats unless you inflict actual fear of safety on the alleged victim. The prosecutor must show the victim was fearful and they sustained the fear. The court cannot consider the inflicted fear actual if the victim perceived it as a joke.
The court also considers fear unreasonable when the threat cannot occur in a reasonable situation. For example, Jane threatened to demolish her neighbor's house using a bicycle. A bicycle cannot destroy a house. So, the court considers Jane's actions unreasonable as they cannot inflict fear on Jane and her family.
Remember, the requirement for the threats to be reasonable does not mean you have the immediate ability to carry out the act. Provided the victim reasonably believes your execution of the threats is imminent, it does not matter whether the criminal activity occurs.
Lastly, the victim is not under sustained fear when the fear quickly dissipates. Sustained fear includes the fear that is beyond feeling, transitory or momentary. For example, Mark threatens Grace that he will kill her at midnight.
At first, Grace is fearful. After a few hours, Grace goes to Mark's house, and they have dinner together. Grace's fear, although actual, is fleeting, as shown by the reunion immediately after the threats are made. Grace's fear was not sustained.
The Threats were Unconditional, Specific, Immediate, and Unequivocal
The threats must be unequivocal, meaning unambiguous. Therefore, the threats do not qualify as criminal threats when empty or conditional. The defendant delivers the conditional threats with "when" or "if," making them dependent on something else.
The defendant uses the threats to scare the victim into following a specific course of action, and the defendant does not want to perform the threats. Usually, conditional threats do not qualify as criminal threats unless the conditions are issued, and the threats are communicated.
For example, Andrew and Tony engage in heated arguments that lead to physical violence. Andrew tells Tony he will kill him if he calls the law enforcement officer. Andrew's threat is conditional. It depends on whether Tony calls the law enforcement officer.
Empty threats are scarier, and the defendant does not intend to carry them out. It does not matter whether you carry the threats with the intent to harm the victim or not. The prosecutor must prove that you threatened the victim.
Verbally, Electronic, or in Writing
Any of the listed devices must communicate the threats to the victim. If you communicate the threats using gestures, the crime does not qualify as a criminal threat. Threatening the victim through an electronic device involves a fax machine, computers, phones, videos, or WhatsApp messages.
The Legal Penalties for Violating California PC 422
According to California laws, criminal threats are considered wobblers. So, the prosecutor can file the charge as a misdemeanor or felony. The prosecutor considers the crime's circumstances and the defendant's criminal history to determine the penalties.
When the prosecutor files the crime as a misdemeanor, you will remain behind bars for up to 12 months and pay a fine not exceeding $1000. When it is a felony, you will spend up to three years in jail and pay a fine not exceeding $10,000.
When the accused uses dangerous weapons to commit the crime, they face another year in jail. The accused may face additional penalties from the stipulated ones based on the nature and the facts surrounding their crime.
The law classifies felony criminal threats under California's three strikes laws. So, the felony charge can make the conviction serious. The law considers the accused a first-time striker after committing a first felony crime.
Usually, many people consider criminal threats to be of moral turpitude. Violation of California PC 422 attracts additional penalties like deportation and professional discipline. You want to speak with your attorney as soon as you face a charge for criminal threats. The attorney will help you skip the harsh penalties.
Strategies to Fight Criminal Threats
A charge for criminal threats can be severe. It might be a strike under California's three strikes law and attract extensive jail terms. You cannot face conviction if the prosecutor fails to prove a criminal threat's elements.
You must also work with a criminal defense attorney to help you develop a strong defense and fight the charge. Your attorney can rely on the loophole in the prosecutor's argument to establish a defense. The following are the legal defenses your attorney can employ to fight the criminal threat charge:
The Threat is Unreasonable
When the victim does not feel threatened, and the threat is unreasonable, then the accused should not face conviction for criminal threats. Your attorney can use the defense if they can show the fear was not real. If the alleged victim was not put in fear of the threat because they thought it was a joke, there is no case.
For example, Brandon and Daniel are good friends. They go on a trip and engage in a heated argument. Brandon threatens to nuke Daniel's house. Daniel proceeds and reports the case to the law enforcement officer. Brandon cannot face conviction for the crime since there is no way Daniel could reasonably feel at risk.
Brandon has no access to a nuclear bomb. Therefore, when this is your situation, you want to discuss your case with your criminal defense attorney. The attorney will employ this defense to fight the charge.
Fear Not Sustained
Remember, the fear issued by the accused must be for more than a fleeting moment. You might be off the hook for the crime when your attorney proves the fear only lasted for a short period and could not cause harm to the victim. For example, Tom and Thomas are involved in a heated argument. Tom threatens to kill Thomas if he fails to leave him alone.
Thomas leaves due to fear for his safety. After a week, Tom and Thomas meet in a hotel. They discuss the previous encounter and apologize. However, Thomas becomes angry and leaves the hotel. The following day, Thomas moves to the nearest police station to seek restraining orders because he feels his life is in immediate danger.
Tom cannot face conviction for the crime because Thomas was only fearful for a moment and did not sustain fear. Also, Tom did not make further threats after the initial threats. Ensure you let your attorney know the facts of your case to help develop the best defense strategy.
Freedom of Speech
A critical element that makes conviction for criminal threats complex is that the crime involves speech. Under the US constitution, everyone has freedom of speech. Your attorney can argue that your threats resulted from anger or frustration without the intent to cause injuries or harm to the victim.
You may escape conviction since you can express your frustration and anger. Ensure you provide any essential evidence available to help in supporting your arguments in the criminal court.
The Threat was Too Conditional or Vague
Sometimes the accused may make threats without mentioning the specific type of threat. You can face conviction for criminal threats when you do not commit specific criminal acts like homicide or assault. A conditional threat might include a statement like, " If you flee with my children, I will kill you."
Since the statement does not place the victim under direct criminal risk, the statement might even fall outside the category of a criminal case. You might provide recorded information to serve as your evidence and support your argument being conditional. The court will consider your evidence and either drop or reduce your charge.
You Did Not Make the Threats
The prosecutor must prove you directly or indirectly threatened the alleged victim for you to face conviction. The prosecutor must provide supporting evidence to show you were involved in the criminal threats. So, when the prosecutor finds it challenging to present evidence, you might use this defense to claim you never committed the criminal threats.
The defense is most appropriate when the communication was made without a witness, verbally, or was unwritten. After the court considers the prosecutor's evidence and finds it insufficient, they will more likely drop your case or reduce the charge.
The Victim was Not Under Fear of Their Safety
Before you face conviction for criminal threats, the prosecution team must prove you made threats to the victim, and the threats placed the victim under immediate fear of imminent harm. The defense can work if you provide supportive evidence to show the victim was never in imminent fear.
Ensure your attorney knows what happened during your encounter with the alleged victim. After listening to your story, they will develop the best defense strategy.
Indistinct or Ambiguous Threats
According to the law, for the threats to qualify as criminal threats, they must be specific. However, the threats do not require exact execution or time. The threats cannot be revealed as criminal threats if the identity of the threats or the victim is not identified. Your attorney can use the defense when the threats lack precise circumstances.
Again, fear is a critical element of crime. So, when the victim is not afraid of the threats, the accused cannot face conviction for the crime. For example, when a small school child threatens to beat a big working farmer, the case is unlikely to count as a criminal threat since the farmer cannot be afraid of the child. If this is your case, you have a valid defense to fight the charge.
The Threat was Only a Joke
You can use this defense when you strongly believe you were only joking when you made the threats. Remember, since the threats were made through jokes, you did not have the intent to commit the crime. So, you cannot face conviction when the prosecutor fails to prove your intent towards the crime.
The Electronic Device is Not Authentic
The accused can make criminal threats through electronic devices like Facebook Messenger, text, or group chat. It is difficult for the prosecutor to authenticate the electronic messages in the criminal court and prove you sent them. If you are the defendant, you must work closely with your criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charge.
You have a high potential to win the case since the prosecutor finds it hard to prove the key elements of the crime. The best way to maximize your chances of winning the case is by hiring a well-experienced criminal defense attorney.
Another legal defense you can apply to fight criminal charges is the defense of false allegations. The defense of false accusations can be valid if your criminal defense attorney proves the victim only wanted to accuse you falsely. Sometimes a jealous or angry person can accuse you of making criminal threats. The cases are popular in domestic violence. Therefore, in this situation, ensure you discuss the matter with your criminal defense attorney.
Other Related offenses
Following allegations of criminal threats, you want to seek assistance from a legal representative to represent you in court. The crime can be charged alongside other closely related crimes. The following offenses are charged alongside criminal threats:
- Stalking, 646.9 PC
Stalking refers to the repeated following, harassing, or threatening another person to the point that the person you are stalking fears for their safety. Again when the victim fears for the safety of their family, they are being stalked.
You have to note that for an event to be termed stalking, it must be repeated. It means a single occasion when you follow or harass someone does not qualify as stalking as it is not a repeated act. The following are examples of stalking:
- Physically following the victim from one place to another.
- Making repeated harassing phone calls, sending emails, texts, or messages to someone
- Sending unwanted flowers or gifts to the victim
- when you Commit Cyberstalking behavior like posting false information, ordering merchandise, or other services online in the victim’s name.
Elements The Prosecutor Must Prove
- You willfully or repeatedly followed the victim or harassed them
- You made a credible threat to the victim
- You wanted to place the victim in reasonable fear for their safety
- You tried to put the victim’s immediate family in a reasonable fear
Penalties for Violating PC 646.9
In California, the crime is a wobbler. The prosecutor may decide to file it as either felony or misdemeanor charge. Misdemeanor penalties are less severe than felony charges. They include imprisonment in county jail for one year and a fine of up to $1000.
Felony penalties include imprisonment in state prison for ten years and a fine of up to $1000. When found guilty of stalking, you are slapped with restraining orders that bar contact with the suspected victim. You may be forced to the sex register and committed to a hospital for the mentally ill.
Your charges may be enhanced at times. For example, stalking the victim while armed with a weapon results in additional imprisonment between one to three years. Again, when you have a prior conviction for domestic violence, you face additional sentences from two to five years. If you have a previous felony stalking conviction, you face up to five years in prison.
Successful Defense Strategies
Remember, you might be accused of stalking someone with a grudge against you. You, therefore, need a solid legal team to represent you in court to prove you are not guilty of stalking. The following are legal defenses your attorney may use to fight your charges:
- Mistaken identity.
- The threat was not immediate and specific.
- The threat was vague.
- The victim did not fear the threat.
- False accusations.
- Extortion PC 518
PC 518 involves using threats or forces to compel someone into giving up money or property. Again, it involves using force or threats to make official public neglect performing a public duty. Sports stars, celebrities, and politicians are primary targets of extortion. With their public image, people can threaten to release private information to tarnish their images in public.
Examples of Actions Considered to be Extortion
- You break into a house with a knife and then threaten to kill the occupants if they do not open the safe containing money and expensive jewelry.
- Someone threatens to expose cheating on their spouse unless paid.
- Making threats to expose an embarrassing secret about someone unless you are compensated
- An adult female with a drug problem threatens her parents to accuse him of molesting her if he does not offer her money to purchase more drugs.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove
- You unlawfully threatened to injure the victim.
- You issued a threat you would accuse somebody else of a crime
- You threatened to expose the victim’s secrets which would cause personal injury
- With the threat or fear applied, you obtained the plaintiff's consent, money, or property
- The fear you used resulted in the plaintiff consenting to your demands.
Penalties For Extortion
Under California laws, extortion is a felony. When facing conviction for felony charges, you face imprisonment for three years in prison. Attempted extortion is also a crime, even when not carried out. For attempted extortion, you face imprisonment of up to one year in county jail.
Legal Defenses for Extortion Charges
When facing charges for PC 524, your defense lawyer may use various legal defenses to fight against your charges. Ensure you work with a well-experienced criminal defense attorney to help you fight the charge. The following are the defense strategies your attorney can employ to fight the charge:
- False accusations and wrongful arrest.
- Police entrapment.
- You did not make threats against the alleged victim.
Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Defending a criminal threat charge can be stressful. So, you require the legal services of a well-experienced criminal defense attorney. Speak with an attorney with the ability to escalate a defense argument and help you fight the charge.
At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our attorneys can successfully take you through the legal process and help you develop a strong defense. Therefore, when the police arrest you over criminal threats in Los Angeles, CA, you want to contact us immediately. Contact us at 424-333-0943 to speak with one of our trained and experienced legal experts.