What Are Criminal Threats?

Last Modified: January 22, 2024

Criminal threats are serious crimes that can lead to jailtime. Learn more on how they might affect your situation and case.

Los Angeles Criminal Threat Attorneys

Making a criminal threat in Los Angeles can get a person in serious trouble with law enforcement. The police can charge it as a felony. Conviction of a felony can mean a jail term in state prison. Therefore, if you or a loved one has been charged with making a criminal threat, you should immediately contact experienced Los Angeles criminal attorneys for help.

What is a Criminal Threat in California?

California Penal Code §422 PC covers criminal threats, formerly known as terroristic threats.

There are several elements that the prosecutor must prove in order to convict someone of making a criminal threat. A criminal threat occurs when a person threatens to kill or seriously hurt another person

The defendant need not threaten the recipient with a specific crime. Threatening to kill or cause a serious injury is enough to support the charge. The injury would be an injury that most people would see as being more serious than a minor or moderate injury. The threat must be made verbally, in writing or electronically.

Simply making a gesture, such as cocking your fist or shaping your hand into a gun, is not enough to support a criminal threat charge. However, saying “this is what you’re gonna get” while shaping your hand into a gun might support a charge.

Verbal threats, if only heard by the recipient, can lead to a “he said, she said” situation.

Conversely, criminal threats communicated through emails or text messages are easier to prove, assuming the other elements of the crime are present.

If a person makes multiple threats against multiple people, the police can charge that person with separate offenses for each threat.

The person making the threat must intend for the recipient of the threat to believe the threat

The prosecutor must show this specific intent was there in order to prove a criminal threat. Note, the intent is that the recipient believes the threat. This is so even if the person making the threat had no intention of following through with the threatened action.

Given the circumstances, the threat was so “unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific” that it conveyed to the recipient that, in fact, the action threatened would happen Proving this element can be difficult for prosecutors. It also can be the most fruitful area for experienced Los Angeles criminal threat attorneys to poke holes in the state’s case. Making vague and loosely worded threats like “I’m going to get even with you” or “you’ll live to regret that” are probably not going to win a conviction for the prosecutor.

Unconditional threats can also be problematic for the state. However, courts will look at all the circumstances of the threat. They often take a broad view (in favor of the prosecutor) whether or not a threat is unconditional.

Lastly, the recipient must have reasonably feared for their safety and/or that of their family

In order to convict, the prosecutor must prove that the recipient was in fear for himself and/or his family. In addition, the recipient’s fear has to be reasonable and sustained for some period.

Again, the facts of the particular case will determine if the prosecutor can meet her burden.

What Are the Penalties for Criminal Threats?

Criminal threats are a “wobbler.” That means that the charge of making criminal threats can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony at the discretion of the prosecutor.

If a misdemeanor, a criminal threat conviction can mean up to one year in county jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

If treated as a felony, making a criminal threat carries with it up to three years in state prison and up to a $10,000 fine. If a person gets convicted of making a criminal threat involving the use of a deadly weapon, the judge can add a consecutive one-year term to the sentence.

A felony criminal threat conviction is also a “strike” under California’s three-strikes law (Penal Code §667 PC). If a person makes multiple threats against multiple people, the police can charge that person with separate offenses.

What Are the Defenses to a Charge of Making Criminal Threats? Experienced Los Angeles criminal threats lawyers know that there are several defenses available to people accused of making criminal threats.

False accusations

If there are no witnesses to a verbal threat, it becomes a “he said, she said” case, especially as there is no requirement that the recipient of a threat is physically injured by the person making the threat. Experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyers will investigate all aspects of the case to determine if anyone is making false accusations.

The threat was vague or ambiguous

The threat has to be more than “I’m gonna make you regret this.” The recipient was not afraid, or his fear was unreasonable The recipient has to be afraid. Laughing off a threat, or not reporting the threat to authorities, may show the recipient did not take the threat seriously.

Conversely, being afraid of someone who threatens to “squash you with a bulldozer” but has no access to one may not be reasonable.

Los Angeles Criminal Threat Defense Lawyers

Persons facing charges of criminal threats need knowledgeable Los Angeles criminal threat defense attorneys. As stated above, law enforcement can treat criminal threats as felonies. That means conviction of a criminal threat charge can mean a state prison jail term.

Daniel Perlman and Matthew Cohen are experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyers at Perlman & Cohen. They have represented numerous clients in criminal threat cases in courts throughout Los Angeles. If the police have charged you or a loved one with making a criminal threat, Perlman & Cohen will stand by you as they prepare your defense to the charges. In appropriate cases they will negotiate a plea to lesser charges.

Otherwise, they will prepare the case for trial and make prosecutors prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. Call them at (310) 557-1700 to set up a free consultation.

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