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Criminal Threats

Penal Code 422 PC - Criminal Threats Law in California

California Penal Code 422 is the statute that makes it a crime to communicate a threat to somebody that could result in great bodily injury or death, which is known as “criminal threats.”

Penal Code 422 PC - Criminal Threats Law in California
Penal Code 422 PC makes it a crime to threaten someone that places them in sustained fear.

This law prohibits threatening to harm or kill another person if the threat places the victim in reasonably sustained fear for their safety or that of their family.   

The unlawful threat must inflict a great bodily injury (GBI) or death. Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats are frequently connected to domestic violence crimes.

PC 422 says, “Anyone who willfully makes a threat to commit a crime that can result in great bodily injury or death to someone, with the intent that their statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent to actually carrying it out, which was specific to the person threatened, an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, causing a victim to be in fear of their safety or immediate family.”

The threat could be made verbally or by electronic communication, such as text messages or email. Still, the prosecutor must prove that the threats placed the victim in reasonable fear and sustained the fear.

Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats are considered a serious crime with severe penalties, including a “strike” under California's three-strikes law. Let's review this topic in more detail below.

What Must Be Proven for a Conviction?

To convict you of violating Penal Code 422 PC, a prosecutor must be able to prove several specific factors that are called the elements of the crime listed under California Criminal Jury Instructions 1300:

  • You willfully threatened to injure or kill someone;
  • The threat was verbal, written, or with electronic communication;
  • The threat was intended to be received as an actual threat;
  • The threat was specific to the victim, and it conveyed an immediate possibility of being executed;
  • The threat placed the victim in fear for their safety or their immediate family, and it was a sustained fear.

Communicated explicitly means it was a particular threat and more than a general hand gesture, such as “I am going to kill you.”

A great bodily injury means a significant physical injury that must place the victim in fear of their safety that has to be sustained, which can be challenging to prove.

Further, a PC 422 criminal threat could still be prosecuted even if there is no evidence you had actual intent to carry out the threat.

What are the Penalties If Convicted?

California Penal Code 422 PC is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense.  If you are convicted of misdemeanor criminal threats, then you are facing the following:

If convicted of a felony PC 422 criminal threats, then you are facing:

  • 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison,
  • A fine of up to $10,000,
  • Formal probation.

You could be sentenced to an additional year in prison if you used a deadly or dangerous weapon to communicate a criminal threat.

A PC 422 felony conviction is considered a “strike” under the three-strikes law, meaning it can significantly increase a prison sentence for second and subsequent convictions if the perpetrator has a strike on their record. A third strike could result in a life prison sentence.

What are the Related Crimes for PC 422?

What Are the Best Defense Strategies?

Several common defense strategies are discussed below if you were charged with criminal threats in violation of Penal Code 422 PC. Most are a challenge to the elements of the crime to create reasonable doubt.

Perhaps we can argue that the victim was not placed in fear of their safety as this element is subjective. Maybe we can say that the prosecutor can't prove the fear was sustained.

Perhaps we could argue that the threat didn't involve great bodily injury or death. Even though a threat was made, maybe it was minor and did not rise to the level of involving a great bodily injury or death.

Best Defense Strategies for Penal Code 422 Criminal Threats
Contact our firm to examine the case details.

Maybe we can argue that you are the victim of a false allegation. Perhaps we can show you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested.  Maybe the alleged victim was motivated by anger or jealousy after an ugly breakup. Perhaps they were trying to evade their involvement in a crime.

Perhaps we can argue that the threat was vague or ambiguous and was not specific to the victim. This could be proven by explaining the circumstances surrounding the incident. In other words, your statements don't qualify as a criminal threat.

Perhaps we can argue that the threat wasn't immediate. The statutory language in PC 422 says the threat must be so “unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific” that it conveys an immediate possibility of execution.

Maybe a reasonable argument could be made to the prosecutor that the alleged threat was vague, and there was no evidence indicating when you might execute the threat. Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor for a favorable outcome.

If you or a family member were charged with the serious crime of criminal threats under Penal Code Section 422, contact our experienced teams of defense lawyers for a case review and to discuss legal options.

Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California. We provide legal representation across the state. You can contact our law firm by phone or fill out the contact form.

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