Criminal Threats

California Penal Code Section 422 – Criminal Threats

The crime of “criminal threats” is described under California Penal Code Section 422 and is often associated with domestic violence related cases, but also covers a wide range of situations. This statute, formerly known as “terrorist threat,” criminalizes the act of willfully threatening someone to immediate harm that would result in great bodily injury or death, even when you don’t intend to carry out the act.  The threats are normally verbal, but also can be accomplished in writing or through electronic communication, such as email, text, or social media. It should be noted that while the freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment of the United States, it doesn’t include the right to makes threats of violence to other people that place them in fear of their safety. In order to be charged with PC 422 criminal threats, you don’t have to just communicate threats directly toward the victim. It also includes making threats to their immediate family members or even a third party, if your intent was to relay a threat to the victim.

A common example of a criminal threats charge in Los Angeles County includes a situation where a boyfriend was arrested for domestic violence against his girlfriend, who was issued a subpoena to testify in court. Before the court date, the boyfriend calls her and make threats of harm if she shows up in court. In this situation, he could be charged with violating PC 422 because he made verbal threats of violence that could have resulted in immediate harm. Criminal threats under Penal Code 422 is a “wobbler” offense, meaning the prosecutor can file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.

Don’t Make Any Statements to Police

If you have been accused of criminal threats, you need to remain silent and don’t make any statements to police detectives as you might incriminate yourself. Rather, contact the experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at the Goldstein Law Group. We need to closely review the details of your situation in order to start planning an effective strategy to obtain the best possible outcome on your case. Now that we covered a general overview of criminal threats charges, let’s take a more thorough look at the legal definition, penalties and potential legal defenses below.

Legal Definition of Criminal Threats

California Penal Code Section 422 legally defines criminal threats as follows:

(a) Anyone who willfully threatens to commit a crime that will result in great bodily injury or death to someone else, with the intent that their statement is taken as a threat even if there is no intent to carry it out, but under the circumstances in which the threats were made, it’s unconditional and immediate, and specific to convey to the victim a purpose to execute the threat and causes the victim to be in reasonable fear of their own safety or safety of immediate family, shall be punished by up to one year in county jail. The threat can be verbal, in writing, or by any electronic device.

As stated above, it’s important to note you don’t have to make a threat of a specific crime, just the threat to cause injury or death is sufficient as long as you place the victim in reasonable fear. Under PC 422, the “immediate family” can be a spouse, parent, child, or anyone who normally resides in the household. An “electronic communication device” includes a telephone, computer, or even a fax machine. The term “willfully” simply means it was on purpose.

Elements of a PC 422 Criminal Threats Crime

In order for the Los Angeles County prosecutor to convict you of criminal threats in violation of under California Penal Code Section 422, they must be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, specific “elements of the crime,” listed under CALCRIM 1300 including the following:

  • You willfully made threats to cause great bodily injury or death to another person
  • Your threats were verbal, in writing, or through electronic communication
  • Your threats were intended to be received by the victim as a threat
  • The threat on its face under the circumstances was so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific, it conveyed the possibility of execution, AND
  • The threat caused the victim to be in reasonable fear of their own safety or immediate family

It should be noted “great bodily injury” means a threat to commit a significant injury to the person. This means if your threat was to cause a slight bodily injury or a threat to damage their property, it’s not considered a criminal threat under Penal Code 422. Again, it’s very important to note your threat doesn’t have to be just directed at just one person.

It can include a group of people. PC 422 requires that you had specific intent to cause physical harm to the victim. It’s also important to note that your threat must have intended to be a threat. Also, a criminal threat means that a reasonable person on the receiving end believes you had the intent to execute the threat because it was delivered in a credible manner.

Legal Penalties for Penal Code 422 Criminal Threats

Criminal threats under California Penal Code Section 422 is a “wobbler” that can be filed as a misdemeanor or felony crime by the Los Angeles County prosecutor. Their decision on how to file is normally based on the specific circumstances of your case and criminal history. If you are convicted of a PC 422 offense as a misdemeanor, you will face up to one year in an LA county jail and a $1,000 fine. If you are convicted of a felony case of criminal threats, you will face up to 3 years in a California state prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

If you used a dangerous weapon in communicating the threat, you are facing an additional year in prison under California Penal Code Section 12022. A felony conviction under PC 422 criminal threats will count as a “strike” under California’s three strikes law. Finally, Penal Code 422 is considered a crime of moral turpitude, meaning it could impact any professional license you may hold and it could lead to deportation for undocumented immigrants.

Related Offenses for Penal Code 422 Criminal Threats

California Penal Code Section 136.1 – Dissuading a Witness
California Penal Code Section 182.22 – Gang Enhancement
California Penal Code Section 243(3) – Domestic Battery
California Penal Code Section 273.5 – Corporal Injury to Spouse
California Penal Code Section 273.6 – Violation of Restraining Order
California Penal Code Section 417 – Brandishing a Weapon
California Penal Code Section 646.9 – Stalking
California Penal Code Section 518 – Extortion
California Penal Code Section 601 – Aggravated Trespassing
California Penal Code Section 602 – Trespassing
California Penal Code Section 653m – Annoying Phone Calls

Legal Defenses for Penal Code 422 Criminal Threats

If you have been accused of criminal threats that violates California Penal Code Section 422, our criminal lawyers can use a wide range of strategies to defend you. Each case is unique with its own set of circumstances and evidence. This means we need to closely examine the specific details to form a strategy for your case. However, the most common legal defenses include the following:

Vague Threat: In some cases, we may be able to show the threat you made was not specific, rather it was vague or ambiguous. Remember, under the elements of the crime, the prosecutor has to prove you had a specific intent to threaten someone else. A vague or ambiguous threat is not sufficient to convict you under Penal Code 422. This is why our criminal defense lawyers need to closely review the details surrounding your case. Of course, our goal is cast reasonable doubt. A common example of a vague threat includes the statement during an argument “I’ll get you back for this, “or “You’ll be sorry.” As you can see, these statements are clearly ambiguous and it doesn’t show you have specific intent to cause immediate great bodily injury or death.

Victims Fear Was Not Reasonable: In some cases, we may be able to prove your statement could not have caused the victim reasonable fear. For example, your statement could have been ridiculous made under a heated argument and no reasonable person would have feared for their safety. Remember the elements of the crime where it states the threat had to be immediate and specific and conveyed the possibility of execution.

False Accusation: As stated, the crime of criminal threats doesn’t require that the victim suffered physical injury. This means it’s very easy and not that uncommon for someone to be accused of threatening another person. False allegations are sometimes made by people who are motivated by anger, jealously, or in a child custody battle with their ex-spouse.

Contact our Criminal Law Firm for Help

If you have been accused of making criminal threats in violation of California Penal Code Section 422, you should consult with the experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at the Goldstein Law Group. We have decades of a successful track record in all type of domestic violence related cases. A conviction can be life-altering in your profession and personal life. Let our lawyers review your case and talk about a strategy to get the best possible outcome. We serve clients throughout Los Angeles County from our Hollywood Office located at 1645 Vine St #809 Los Angeles, CA 90028. Contact us at 323-461-2000 for a case review.

Related Case Results:
Criminal Threat Charges Dismissed
Charges dismissed in Domestic Violence
No charges filed following Domestic Violence Arrest