Criminal Defense Lawyers Defending Individuals Charged With Making Criminal Threats
Criminal threats charges can often be a difficult crime to define and often used as a tactic by Los Angeles police if other options are limited. An individual can be charged with criminal threats if they threaten to shoot another person while holding a weapon or if a recently terminated employee contacts his supervisor and makes threats. In some cases, a badly timed joke or just an aggressive expression of frustration can lead to charges of criminal threats.
Under California Penal Code Section 422, Criminal Threats (formerly known as terrorist threats) are defined as:
- Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person
- With the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and
- Thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family's safety.
In order to be convicted of a violent crime case of criminal threats, the prosecution must prove all of the elements above beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution fails to prove one of the above elements you must be acquitted.
Legal Penalties for a Criminal Threats Conviction
Anyone who is convicted of a criminal threat can be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison. California Penal Code 422 (criminal threats) is a wobbler; meaning it can be pursued as either a felony or misdemeanor, which is ultimately up to the prosecutor to decide.
If you are convicted of the felony, you may face up to as much as four years in a California state prison and if you used a dangerous weapon or threatened someone with a dangerous weapon, your sentence may increase by one year.
If you are convicted of the misdemeanor, you may face up to one year in a county jail. In addition, if you already have two strikes on your record, this could lead to a mandatory sentence under the three strikes law because a criminal threats conviction is considered a strike on your record. In some cases, a criminal threats can be negotiated to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace. See our blog: California Disturbing the Peace Law - PC 415.
Legal Defenses Against a Criminal Threats Case
Some possible legal defenses include:
- The threat was not immediate; under California Penal Code 422, the threat must be “unequivocal, unconditional, and immediate.” This however does not mean that the threat must be carried out immediately the second after it is made. A threat can still be a criminal threat so long as it is clear that the victim knows that you may carry out the threat at a later time. However, if the threat is vague and there is no clear distinction of when you will carry out the threat, then that vagueness can serve as a defense to a charge of criminal threat.
- The threat was ambiguous or vague; under California Penal Code 422, the threat must be specific, however the specificity does not necessarily have to refer to a time and place. Meaning that even if the threat does not specifically state a date or time that the threat will occur, if the events or circumstances that surround the incident clarify the meaning of the threat, it will still be considered as a criminal threat. Therefore, a threat that is on its face vague and does not contain any surrounding circumstances to clarify the meaning of the threat can serve as a defense to the charge of a criminal threat.
- The victim's fear or the threat was unreasonable; in order to be convicted of a criminal threat, the victim's fear and the threat must be both real and reasonable. If either the threat or the victim's fear is not real or reasonable, there is no case. Meaning even if the victim is in fear of the threat that you made, but the threat is not reasonable under the specific circumstance, then there is no case. For example, if someone threatens to shoot you with a missile. It would therefore not be a reasonable threat because it is unreasonable to believe that the person would follow through with the threat.
- False accusation; because you can be convicted of a criminal threat without the victim suffering any visual or physical injuries, the victim may for example be angry with you and in turn falsely accuse you of threatening them. Our experienced attorneys are able to find and reveal the truth.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Threats Lawyer
We have decades of experienced defending clients against charges of criminal threats. We understand how the prosecutor will attempt to build their case against you and have developed effective defense strategies.
Our top-ranked criminal defense lawyers provide aggressive legal representation in even the most challenging circumstances. We are available 24/7 to review your case. Call our law office at 877-781-1570 for a free immediate response.