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Criminal Threats

Criminal Threats Law in California - Penal Code 422 PC 

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.” 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 involve inflicting a great bodily injury (GBI) or death. Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats are frequently connected to domestic violence crimes. 

Criminal Threats Law in California - Penal Code 422 PC 
PC 422 criminal threats are credible threats of bodily injury or death to place someone in fear.

PC 422 says, "(a) 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 using 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, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison.

(b) For purposes of this section, “immediate family” means any spouse, whether by marriage or not, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree, or any other person who regularly resides in the household, or who, within the prior six months, regularly resided in the household.

(c) “Electronic communication device” includes, but is not limited to, telephones, cellular telephones, computers, video recorders, fax machines, or pagers. “Electronic communication” has the same meaning as the term defined in Subsection 12 of Section 2510 of Title 18 of the United States Code."

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

What Factors Must Be Proven?

PC 422 makes it a crime to threaten another person with immediate harm when you intend to and cause reasonable and sustained fear in that person. To convict you of violating PC 422, the district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt all the elements of the crime, including the following: 

  • You willfully threatened to cause great bodily injury or kill someone.
  • The threat made verbally, written, or electronically.
  • You intended your statement to be understood as an actual threat.
  • The threat was specific to the victim and was clear and unconditional.
  • It conveyed an immediate possibility of being executed.
  • The threat made the victim or immediate family fear for their safety.
  • The victim's fear was sustained and reasonable under the circumstances.

Communicated “explicitly” means a specific threat and more than just a general hand gesture.  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 is often challenging to prove.

A criminal threat can still be prosecuted even if there is no evidence you had actual intent to carry out the threat. Simply threatening to kill or cause great bodily injury is sufficient. An “electronically communicated” threat includes email, text messages, social media, etc. 

To convict, the prosecution must prove that the recipient of the threat feared for their safety or the safety of their family, meaning they believed the threat was credible. For a criminal threat charge to be proven, the victim must be in “sustained fear,” which means it lasts more than a moment. 

What are the PC 422 Penalties?

Penal Code 422 PC is a “wobbler” in California that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense, defending on the following:

  • Your criminal record and
  • Circumstances of the case;

If convicted of misdemeanor criminal threats, the punishments include: 

  • Up to one a year in county jail,
  • A fine up to $1,000,
  • Summary probation.

If convicted of a felony PC 422 criminal threats, the penalties include:

  • 16 months, two or three years in state prison,
  • A fine of up to $10,000,
  • Formal probation,
  • Loss of your right to own or possess a firearm.

You could face an additional one year in prison if you used a deadly or dangerous weapon to communicate the criminal threat. A PC 422 felony conviction is a “strike” under the three-strikes law. It can significantly increase a prison sentence for second and subsequent convictions. A third strike could result in a life prison sentence.

California law considers criminal threats a crime involving moral turpitude. If a non-citizen is convicted, they could be deported or denied entry into the United States. 

What are Related Crimes?

  • Penal Code 243(e)(1) PCdomestic battery. This crime is any willful and unlawful use of force or violence against an intimate partner and the most common domestic violence charge.
  • Penal Code 273.5 PCcorporal injury to a spouse. This crime is defined as willfully inflicting a physical injury resulting in a traumatic condition on an intimate partner. Typically, the injuries are visible.
  • Penal Code 136.1 PCdissuading a witness. This crime means attempting to prevent a witness or victim from reporting or testifying about a crime or cooperating with police or prosecutors.
  • Penal Code 368 PCelder abuse. This crime is the physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of a victim 65 years of age or older.
  • Penal Code 646.9 PCstalking. This law means to follow, harass, and threaten someone to the point that the person fears for their safety.
  • Penal Code 601 PCaggravated trespassing. This crime is threatening to injure someone physically and then enter their home or workplace without permission.
  • Penal Code 186.22 PC - gang enhancement law. Participating in a gang is a separate charge while committing a crime for a gang's benefit increases the penalty for the underlying offense.
  • Penal Code 518 PCextortion (blackmail). This crime means using force or threats either to compel someone to hand over money or property or to compel a public officer to perform an official act.

What Are the Best Defenses?  

If you were charged with Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats, our California criminal defense lawyers can use different strategies, such as the following:

  • You did not use force or fear,
  • The alleged victim was not placed in fear,
  • The threat did not involve great bodily injury,
  • The alleged threat was too vague,
  • The allegations are false,

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

Criminal Threats

Maybe we can say the threat didn't involve great bodily injury or death. Perhaps the threat was not serious or was made jokingly. Perhaps you can argue that you are the victim of a false allegation. Maybe you were falsely accused by someone motivated by anger after a relationship ended poorly. Perhaps the alleged victim was motivated by anger or jealousy. 

Maybe the threat was vague or ambiguous and not specific to the victim. In other words, your statements don't qualify as a criminal threat. Maybe there was no evidence indicating when you might execute the threat. 

Maybe we can say 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. Contact our law firm for a free case evaluation. Cron, Israels & Stark has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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