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Criminal Threats

Criminal Threats in California - Penal Code 422 PC

California Penal Code 422 PC is the law making it a crime to communicate a threat to somebody that could result in great bodily injury or death, which is called "criminal threats."

Simply put, this statute prohibits threatening to harm or kill someone if the threat places them in reasonably sustained fear for their safety or that of their family.

Notably, the unlawful threat must involve inflicting a great bodily injury (GBI) or death. Criminal threats criminal cases are often related to domestic violence crimes. Recanting a domestic violence statement does not always result in dropped charges.

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 safety or 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."

Threats such as text messages or emails can be made verbally or electronically. Still, the prosecutor must prove that the threats placed the victim in reasonable fear and that the fear was sustained. PC 422 PC criminal threats are considered serious crimes with severe penalties, including a "strike" under California's three-strikes law.

What Must Be Proven for a Conviction?

To convict you of violating Penal Code 422 PC, a district attorney must prove all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt (CALCRIM 1300), such as the following:

  • You willfully threatened to injure or kill another person.
  • The threat was verbal, written, or electronic communication.
  • The threat was intended to be received as an actual threat.
  • The threat was specific to the victim.
  • The threat conveyed an immediate possibility of being executed.
  • The threat made the victim fear for their safety or their family.
  • It was a sustained fear.

"Communicated explicitly" means it was a specific threat and more than just a general hand gesture, such as "I'm going to kill you."

A "great bodily injury" is a significant physical injury that must place the victim in fear of their safety and has to be sustained, which is often challenging to prove. A PC 422 criminal threat case can be prosecuted even if there is no evidence you had actual intent to carry out the threat.

What are the PC 422 Penalties?

California Penal Code 422 PC is a "wobbler," meaning the district attorney can file the case as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If convicted of misdemeanor criminal threats, you are facing the following:

  • 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, you are facing the following punishments:

  • 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison,
  • A fine of up to $10,000,
  • Formal probation.

You can be sentenced to an additional and consecutive one-year in prison if you use a deadly or dangerous weapon to communicate a criminal threat.

A PC 422 felony conviction is considered a "strike" under the three-strikes law. This means a strike on the perpetrator's record can significantly increase a prison sentence for second and subsequent convictions. A third strike might result in a life prison sentence.

Since Penal Code 422 PC is a strike, you must serve at least 85% of your sentence before you will be eligible for release on parole.

Also, PC 422 is considered a moral turpitude crime, viewed as more offensive and reprehensible than others. Thus, a criminal threats conviction potentially subjects you to deportation or removal if you are a legal immigrant or alien. It can also result in professional discipline.

What are PC 422 Related Crimes?

What Are PC 422 Defenses?

Suppose you were charged with making criminal threats, violating Penal Code 422 PC. As discussed below, our California criminal defense lawyers can use different strategies to challenge the charges.

Criminal Threats in California - Penal Code 422 PC
Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats law makes it a crime to communicate a threat to someone.

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

Maybe we could argue that the threat didn't involve great bodily injury or death. Perhaps a threat was made, but it was minor and did not involve a great bodily injury or death.

Perhaps you are the victim of a false allegation, and we can prove you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested. Possibly, the alleged victim was motivated by anger or jealousy after an ugly relationship breakup, or they are attempting to evade their involvement in a crime.

Maybe the threat was vague or ambiguous and not specific to the victim. Perhaps the circumstances surrounding the incident can prove it. Simply put, your statements may not qualify as a criminal threat.

Maybe the threat wasn't immediate and did not convey an immediate possibility of execution. A reasonable argument could be made that no evidence indicates when you might execute the threat. We can prepare the best domestic violence defenses to give you the chance of a favorable outcome. Contact us for more information. The Hedding Law Firm is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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