The California PC 422 makes it a crime for a person to threaten intentionally or willfully commit a crime that may lead to death or significant bodily injury on another person. The defendant may issue a threat through an electronic communication device, verbally, or in writing. You will face charges for issuing a warning even if you do not intend to execute the threat. As long as the threat causes the victim to sustain fear for his/her safety or the safety of the victim's loved ones, the warning is punishable by the law. If you are facing charges for issuing a criminal threat, the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help you fight the charges.
Elements of the Crime
The alternative name for criminal threats, as outlined under California PC 422, is a terrorist threat. You may threaten a person with imminent harm or death. The primary reason for issuing a warning is to inflict fear or uncertainty on the victim. The crime of criminal threats has several elements, which the prosecutor has to prove while accusing you of the crime.
First, the prosecutor has to prove that you made an intentional threat to kill or injure another person. The prosecutor must state the mode you used to make the threat. For instance, you may have made the threat verbally, in writing, or using electronic devices. It should be evident that the threat you made was unconditional, unequivocal, specific, and immediate. It should be apparent that the threat conveyed an immediate likelihood or possibility of execution.
The prosecutor has to prove that after the issue of the threat, the victim feared for his/her safety and the safety of his/her relatives or family members. According to the law, you do not have to address a victim to issue a criminal threat. You may issue a warning without directly addressing the victim. In the case of People v Lipseth (2014), the defendant was fighting over a bike with another person. The defendant then shouted to a companion, "shot him." The defendant faced charges for criminal threats, even if he did not address the victim directly. All that mattered was that the defendant intended to have the request of shooting the victim executed.
While threatening the victim, you do not have to outline the specific crime you intend to commit against the victim. As long as you say that you will kill or inflict bodily injury on the victim, it is enough to earn you charges for issuing criminal threats. A tremendous bodily injury refers to significant or substantial damage to the victim.
You do not have to direct the threat to a single person. Instead, you may address the threat to a group of people like a group of workers. You cannot issue a criminal warning through a gesture that is not accompanied by verbal, written, or electronically conveyed messages.
There are several ways of conveying a threat electronically. You may electronically communicate a threat via telephone, a landline, or a cellphone. You may also transmit a threat electronically using a computer, video recorder, text, pager, or a fax machine. It is common for people to convey criminal threats using text messages.
You cannot face charges for criminal threats under PC 422 unless you cause the victim reasonable fear. It must be evident that after you issued the warnings, the victim feared for his or her safety or the safety of a close family member. If the victim does not worry or if the victim dismisses the threat as fake, you are not guilty of inflicting fear.
There are various ways of determining whether a victim suffered fear after receiving a threat. If the victim installs a surveillance system or a new security system in his/her home after receiving the threat, it is an indication that the victim suffered fear. It may also be evident that the victim sustained fear after receiving the warning if the victim goes into hiding.
The recipient of the threat should believe that the threat is credible. At the time of issuing the warning, it should be apparent that the defendant has the intent of executing or carrying out the threat. You do not have to convey the threat personally for you to face charges. You may face charges even if you communicate the threat through a third party. If the victim does not suffer fear, you cannot face any charges under the California PC 422. The court may decide to dismiss your entire charges.
The fear that the victim suffers after receiving the threat must also be reasonable. If you issue a silly or an unreasonable warning, which you cannot execute, the victim may not suffer reasonable fear.
However, it is essential to note that it is not a requirement for the defendant to have the ability to execute the threat. All that matters is for the victim to believe that the defendant can execute the threat.
For the defendant to face criminal threat charges, the victim should suffer sustained fear after receiving the threat. Sustained fear refers to a form of fear that extends beyond what is momentary, fleeting, or transitory. No timeframe exists for which the fear should last; sustained fear varies on a case-to-case basis.
According to PC 422, the threat you issue to the victim should be unambiguous, unconditional, and specific. The person receiving the threat should get an illusion of an immediate prospect of execution of the threat. However, depending on the circumstances of the case, an empty or a conditional threat may also qualify as criminal threats.
A conditional threat refers to a threat that relies on another condition. For instance, the defendant may threaten to kill a person if the person does something. For example, a defendant may tell the victim, "I will kill you if you do not give me the money." A conditional threat qualifies as a criminal threat as long as its context reasonably conveys to the victim that the defendant intends to execute the threat.
If you issue a conditional threat, the threat may also qualify as extortion, as outlined under the California PC 518. If the conditional threat qualifies as a form of blackmail or extortion, you may face charges under both PC 422 and PC 518. Most conditional threats seek to achieve something. The person issuing a conditional warning often wishes he/she will accomplish the set goal so that he/she will not have to execute the threat.
For a conditional threat to qualify as a criminal threat, the defendant should make the threat with a sense of purpose and likelihood that he/she will be able to execute the threat.
The defendant may still face criminal threats charges even if he/she only issued empty threats to the victim. A threat is meaningless if the person issuing the warning does not intend to execute the threat. Empty threats are mainly a tactic aimed at scaring the victim. However, for assigning charges under PC 422, it does not matter whether the individual intended to execute the threat or not, therefore, for the defendant to convey the threat credibly for the victim to believe that the defendant plans to see the warning through.
Consequences for Criminal Threats Charges
A violation under the California PC 422 is a wobbler offense. This means that the prosecutor may choose to charge the offense as a felony or misdemeanor. Whether the prosecutor charges the offense as a felony or misdemeanor will depend on various factors, including your criminal record. The prosecutor will also consider the unique facts of your case.
If the prosecutor charges you with a misdemeanor offense of issuing criminal threats, you may serve jail time for up to one year in a county jail in California. You may also have to pay a monetary fine, not exceeding $1,000. If the prosecutor accuses you of committing a felony, you may serve up to three years in a state prison in California. You may also pay hefty fines not exceeding $10,000. You may face additional and consecutive imprisonment of one year in state prison if you use a dangerous or deadly weapon to convey your threat.
It is important to note that you may face penalties for each threat that you communicate if you issue threats on more than one occasion. The same case will apply if you issue warnings against multiple people or according to different objectives.
A Strike on Your Record
For a felony criminal threat conviction, you will get a strike on your record according to the California Three Strikes Law. If charged as a felony, a violation under PC 422 qualifies as a serious felony, and this qualifies it as a strike according to the California Three Strikes law.
If you have a previous strike on your record and you commit a severe additional felony, you will become a second striker. If you are a second striker, your sentence will be twice the sentence required by the law for a similar offense.
If you have two strikes on your record and you commit a third felony, you will become a third striker. As a third striker, you have to serve a minimum sentence of 25 years to life imprisonment in a state prison in California. Because a felony conviction under PC 422 is a strike, you have to serve at least 85% of your sentence before you are eligible for a release on parole according to California laws.
A Crime of Moral Turpitude
Any violation under PC 422 qualifies as a crime of moral turpitude. A crime of moral turpitude is more objectionable and offensive than other crimes. Therefore, if you violate the California PC 422, you may face adverse immigration consequences. If you are an immigrant, you may be inadmissible in the United States. You may not be able to change your immigration status. For instance, if you have a record of criminal threats crime, you may not be able to become a citizen of the United States through naturalization. In some instances, you may face deportation or removal from the United States if you are an alien or a legal migrant.
Fighting Charges under PC 422
For you to face criminal threats charges, the prosecutor has to prove the elements of the crime. With the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, you can be able to fight the prosecutor's allegations. You may take advantage of the various legal defenses available for fighting charges under PC 422. Some of the common legal defenses include:
You may assert that the threat you issued was ambiguous, and there was no sense of when you were likely to execute the threat. The California PC 422 outlines that a criminal threat should be unconditional, unequivocal, specific, and immediate. The threat should convey an immediate likelihood or possibility of execution. The element of the quick chance of execution does not imply that the defendant should execute the threat immediately. Instead, it may mean that the victim understands that if/she does not honor your demands and conditions, you may complete the threat later. If the threat is vague, you may fight the charges in court.
If a criminal threat appears vague and ambiguous, it may still qualify as a criminal threat if the surrounding facts and circumstances clarify the meaning of the threat. However, if there is an absence of events expected to accompany a threat, the defendant may assert that the threat does not qualify as a criminal threat.
The Victim did not Fear
For you to face charges for criminal threats under PC 422, it must be evident that the victim suffered fear after receiving the threat. If it is apparent that the victim does not fear your warning, you cannot face charges. For instance, you cannot face charges if the victim believes that your threat is a joke. The victim may also feel that you do not have the capability of executing the threat. The victim must suffer fear for you to face charges under PC 422. If the victim does not experience anxiety, you are not guilty of criminal threats under PC 422.
You cannot get a conviction for criminal threats under PC 422 if the victim does not feel threatened or if the fear is irrational. The victim should experience a concern that is reasonable and real. If the alarm does not meet the two requirements, it is unreasonable, and the defendant should not face charges. If the threat you issued was not reasonable under the circumstances, you might not face charges even if the victim suffered fear. A defendant may threaten to run over the victim over with an airplane. The defendant may have no pilot's license or access to an aircraft. In this case, the victim would have no reason for experiencing fear because the defendant has no means of executing the threat.
The Fear was not Prolonger or Sustained
You may also fight charges under PC 422 by asserting that the victim did not suffer prolonged or sustained anxiety. For a defendant to face criminal threats charges, the victim should suffer lasting fear and not momentary or fleeting fear. If the victim experienced fear for a brief moment after receiving the treatment, and the victim did not experience a prolonged concern, the alarm does not qualify as sustained fear.
If the victim sustained fear, but only due to over-reaction, you may still fight the charges. You have a basis for challenging the charges as long as the victim unreasonably sustained fear.
You were Exercising your Right of Free Speech
You may fight charges under PC 422 if you feel that your utterance was protected as free speech. The California criminal threats law does not target constitutionally protected speech. The law targets people who attempt to instill fear in other people. If you merely engage in angry ranting and utterances, you cannot face charges under PC 422, no matter how violent the declarations.
A Victim of False Accusations
For you to face charges under PC 422, the victim does not have to suffer physical injuries. Therefore, the crime of criminal threats is a target for false accusations. If a person is jealous, spiteful, vengeful, or angry with you, he/she may accuse you of criminal threats. An individual trying to conceal his/her criminal liability may also charge another person of the crime of criminal threats. It is easy for a false accusation to occur when the threat is verbal and not written or transmitted electronically.
An experienced criminal defense attorney may have handled numerous criminal threats cases before. Therefore, the attorney can explore and examine facts, detect lies, and reveal the truth. If you are facing a charge for issuing a criminal threat, an attorney can help to clear your name.
Several offenses in California are related to the crime of criminal threats. Some of the related crimes include:
Usually, criminal threats take place in the context of dating and domestic relationships. Any crime committed against a former or current spouse is subject to the California domestic violence laws. The same case also applies to any crime committed against a cohabitant, a domestic partner, a parent, or a child.
In most cases, domestic violence offenses take place in highly charged emotional environments. In heated emotional moments, it is common for people to threaten violence. A spouse may threaten the other spouse even if he/she does not intend to execute the threat.
However, even if the defendant does not intend to inflict harm against the victim, criminal threats charges may apply. Charges may apply if the recipient of the threat fears for his/her well-being and the well-being of family members.
In a domestic setting, the prosecutor may charge the defendant with criminal threats as an offense of domestic violence. This may subject the defendant to additional penalties. The prosecutor may also assign the defendant to separate criminal threat charges alongside other domestic violence offenses.
According to the California PC 518, you may face charges for extortion if you use threats or force to gain money or other property or services from another person or entity. You may also face extortion charges if you threaten and subject a public official to fear to make him/her perform an official act.
You may commit the crime of extortion if you threaten a politician and urge him/her to vote for a particular legislator. You may tell the politician that if he/she does not do as you wish, you will subject him/her or his/her family to pain and suffering. In this case, you may get charged for extortion under PC 518 and criminal threats under PC 422.
According to California law, the crime of extortion is a felony. The penalties include imprisonment and payment of a hefty fine not exceeding $10,000. You may serve imprisonment in a state prison in California for two, three, or four years.
Dissuading a Witness
The violation under California PC 136.1, dissuading a witness, is closely related to the offense of criminal threats under PC 422. The California PC 136.1 makes it a criminal offense for a person to prevent or attempt to prevent a victim or a witness of a crime from testifying or reporting the crime. If you use threats to dissuade a witness or a victim from testifying or reporting a crime, you may violate California PC 422. Therefore, the prosecutor may charge you with criminal threats and dissuading a witness.
A violation under PC 136.1 is a wobbler under California law. If charged as a misdemeanor, you may serve up to one year in a county jail in California. If the prosecutor charges the offense as a felony, you may serve up to four years in a state prison in California.
Find a Competent Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
The State of California treats criminal threats as a serious offense. If you or your loved one is facing charges for making criminal threats, it is crucial to retain a skilled criminal defense attorney. The attorney will come up with a strategy to fight for your rights and freedom. If you are facing charges of criminal threats, the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can assist. Contact us at 714-740-7848 and speak to one of our attorneys.