California Penal Code 422 PC used to cover what was known as terrorist threats. That name has now been changed to “criminal threats,” a crime that puts another person in fear. It’s threatening someone with physical or emotional harm and doing so with such credibility that the person actually fears for their safety or the safety of their immediate family. To use the exact words of the penal code, it is threatening someone and “that person is thereby placed in a state of reasonably sustained fear for his/her safety or for the safety of his/her immediate family.” The “threat is specific and unequivocal,” and “you communicate the threat verbally, in writing, or via an electronically transmitted device.” This last portion is very important in today’s highly technological world. In the old days, there was simply no way of holding someone accountable for something like threatening text messages. Today, it’s a commonplace occurrence and one that can immediately draw the attention of law enforcement.
The important thing to remember is that your charge isn’t contingent on any real ability to carry out the threat. And you don’t even have to attempt to carry out the threat to be charged with this crime.
– Threatening to shoot a person while holding a gun
– Sending a text message to an in-law saying you’re going to burn their house down
– An employee telling a former boss to watch his back
These are very specific threats and someone would reasonably be alarmed and in fear because of them. They’re not vague and any reasonable person would respond with fear.
Sometimes people say things that they later regret. Usually, criminal threats are among those things that people later wish they hadn’t said. And some people who make these threats truly have no intention of carrying them out. Unfortunately, this is a crime where the result is that you make someone afraid, and whether or not you meant the person true harm, you still accomplished your goal: You put them in fear. And that’s what the crime is: Putting another person in a reasonable amount of fear.
A defense lawyer can help you with various defenses:
– Vague threats can be defended much more easily than specific threats (Watch your back vs I’m going to kill you).
– The person who received the threat should not have reasonably feared for their safety
– Victim was not in fear for a sustained period of time
– Your threat was a gesture, not verbal or written
– Sometimes your threat never occurred at all and the “victim” makes a false allegation
False allegations of threats happen all the time, especially in volatile domestic situations where both parties are fighting against each other and trying to get the upper hand by using a false allegation. A good defense attorney can amass proof that the threat was false and defend you aggressively in court.
This crime is known as a “wobbler,” in that it can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecution decides which one to try the charge as. A misdemeanor can lead to a year in county jail while a felony, you can get up to 4 years in California state prison. The latter charge is a serious one and can be complicated by using any kind of deadly weapon in the commission of the offense (waving a gun around while threatening to shoot someone).
Another thing you should be aware of is that this crime results in a “strike” under California’s three strikes law. You’re not eligible for release until you serve 85% of your sentence. That’s a scary prospect for a crime that can amount to 4 years in prison on a first offense. It’s not anything you should try to defend yourself against.
Anyone accused of criminal threats needs to call a lawyer immediately and let the lawyer put together a good legal defense. Lawyers know this law well, as it’s one that is commonly violated, both on the part of people who really do issue criminal threats and by false victims who make false allegations of criminal threats. Due to its stiff penalties and potential “strike” on your record, you must call a lawyer quickly after accused.