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Criminal Threats in California

Posted by Philip Israels | Aug 06, 2019

Making criminal threats in California are covered under Penal Code Section 422. It's described as willfully making threats of great bodily injury or death to someone else – with an intent their statements were to be taken as a threat. It doesn't matter if there was ever an intent to actually carry out the threat.

Criminal threats under PC 422 most frequently fall under the domestic violence category. The unlawful threats can be verbal, in writing, or through electronic communication device.

Common examples of PC 422 criminal threats include the use of email, text messages, and even social media. It should be noted the threat doesn't always have to be directly at the alleged victim. Rather, it could also include their immediate family members, such as parents or children. Also, an unlawful threat under Penal Code 422 could be made to a third party if it was intended to relay a threat to the victim.

A violation of PC 422 criminal threats is far more serious issue than a lot of people believe. Even though Penal Code 422 is a California wobbler – meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony – it's a strike under California three strikes law. 

What this means is that if you plead guilty or convicted of a Penal Code 422 felony, you will have a strike on your record.  If you were accused of criminal threats, you should contact Cron, Israels & Stark for a free case evaluation. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers provide an overview of criminal threats law below.

Legal Description of California Penal Code 422 – Criminal Threats

Criminal threats defined under California Penal Code 422 PC states a crime occurs if you willfully threaten to commit a crime that will result in death or great bodily injury to another individual, as long as the specific intent of your statement was to be taken as a threat.

In order for the prosecutor to convict you of making criminal threats in violation of Penal Code 422, they have to be able prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. These elements are described under CALCRIM 1300 Jury Instructions as follows:

  • You willfully threatened to unlawfully cause great bodily injury or death to the victim or immediate family
  • You made the threat verbally, by writing, or through an electronic communication device
  • You intended your statement to be directed at the alleged victim and that it was to be understood as a threat
  • Your threat was clear, immediate, unconditional, and with specific intent it communicated to the alleged victim the intent it would be carried out
  • Your threat did cause the alleged victim or their family to be in fear of their safety

Common Myths About Criminal Threats Cases

Many people believe that a criminal threats case only involves a face-to-face verbal interaction. This is not true, as a PC 422 criminal threats could be hard to actually prove in court as it's could come down to only the statement of the victim against the statement of the defendant,

The types of criminal threats cases that normally get someone convicted are those where threats were made by text, email, or a voicemail. Clearly, the prosecutor would have much easier case to prove against you. You must be very careful to never make threats through communication devices as you can be sure it will be used against you later in court.

Another myth about criminal threats cases in California is that it would be wise to just tell the police your side of the story – that they would understand what you are going through if you just placed the blame of the victim – by showing they were unreasonable.

This approach is a huge mistake. If you are under investigation for Penal Code 422 criminal threats, don't ever talk to the police. They are not on your side – and certainly not your friend – in spite of their courteous demeanor.

Don't try to explain your side of the story. Why? They don't care. Their sole job is to build a case against you and make an arrest. Nothing positive will come from your statements to police

Of course, it's goes without saying you should never admit to even having an argument – or even a disagreement – with the alleged victim. Anything you tell the police during a criminal threats investigation has the potential on incriminating yourself.

Therefore, if you are contacted by a police detective about a criminal threats investigation in violation of Penal Code 422, you need to be polite and tell them you want to exercise your right to remain silent.

The final myth involves the belief it would be wise to contact the alleged victim after you learn they have made a complaint against you. You might believe you can just work things out – it was just a misunderstanding – you can talk your way out of it and convince them to drop the complaint. Huge mistake as your call could be recorded and used against you later.

Contact a Defense Attorney to Review Your Case

If you or a member of your family has been accused of criminal threats that are in violation of California Penal Code 422, you will need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to have the best chance at a favorable outcome.

We understand the best legal defenses and have a record of success in all types of domestic violence related cases. For example, specific intent is critical for the prosecutor to prove in order to secure a conviction. Perhaps we can show your statement was taken out of context and should not have been considered a threat.

We have the experience to defend you and have track record of success. Choosing the right criminal lawyer is a critical decision. We need to first review all the details of your case in order to determine an effective defense strategy for best possible outcome. Call our law firm for a free case evaluation.

About the Author

Philip Israels

Phil Israels was raised in California's Central Valley where he still has family. After graduating from the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member for Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and studied Economics, he continued his education...

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