California Penal Code 422 PC defines the crime of criminal threats as unlawfully threatening to harm or kill someone when the threats places the victim in reasonable and sustained fear for their own safety, or the safely of their immediate family.
Put simply, the threat has to deal with inflicting either a great bodily injury or death on the victim, or members of their family.
Readers should not that most Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats cases are directly related to a domestic violence incident.
The legal definition of criminal threats under PC 422 states:
- “Any person who willfully makes threats to commit a crime resulting in great bodily injury or death, with intent it should be taken as a threat, under circumstances so immediate and specific as to relay to the person threatened, an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, which causes them to be in fear their safety or their immediate family.”
The unlawful threat can be made verbally, in writing, or by means of electronic communication like email or text messages. Note that there is no requirement that defendant ever had an actual intent of carrying out the threat.
Further, your threats must place the victim in reasonable fear that means they were actually fearful and the fear was sustained. This is a frequent target of attack by experienced legal counsel.
A felony PC 422 criminal threats conviction is serious business that will typically result in a significant California state prison sentence and a “strike” under the three strikes law.
For more detailed information, our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing an overview of the law below.
What Must a Prosecutor Prove for a Criminal Threats Conviction?
In order for a prosecutor to convict someone of making criminal threats that is violation of Penal Code 422 PC, there are several different factors they must prove beyond any reasonable doubt.
These factors are called the elements of the crime and listed under CALCRIM 1300 California criminal jury instructions:
- defendant willfully made threats to injure or kill someone;
- threat was made verbally, in writing, or by electronic communication;
- the threat was communicated with intent to be received as a threat;
- it was made under the circumstances that it conveyed the immediate possibility of the treat being executed;
- the threat placed victim in fear for their safety, or their family members.
It should be noted that the threat has to be communicated explicitly. For instance, gestures such as just shaking your fist at the victim will not be sufficient to support a Penal Code 422 criminal threats charge.
However, if you shake your fist at the victim and then tell them “I'm going to kill you,” then this action could be prosecuted under this statute.
Great bodily injury or death
Further, to face prosecution under PC 422, the alleged threat has to involve great bodily injury or death. For example, if you tell somebody that you are “coming over to slap them,” this is not serious enough to face criminal threats charges, even though it is a threat.
Placing victim or family in fear of their safety
One of the most difficult factors a prosecutor must prove is often that the threat placed the victim in sustained fear.
Clearly, this is objective and will depend on the reaction of the victim. Put simply, what exactly would a reasonable person think in this situation?
If it can somehow be proven the victim was never actually in fear, then a criminal threats charge under Penal Code 422 can't be sustained.
The statute requires that a victim was placed in “sustained,” fear. This means it's possible that a victim could have been put in a situation where the unlawful threat placed them in significant fear at that moment, but that fear dissipates almost immediately, thus, PC 422 charges can't be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Finally, as noted, you can be prosecuted for making criminal threats when you never had any actual intent to carry out the threat. Put simply, the threat alone is sufficient for prosecution.
What are the Related California Crimes?
There are several related crimes to Penal Code 422 criminal threats, including:
- Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC – domestic battery,
- Penal Code 273.5 PC – corporal injury to spouse
- Penal Code 368 PC – elder abuse,
- Penal Code 136.1 PC – dissuading a witness,
- Penal Code 646.9 PC – stalking,
- Penal Code 186.22 PC – street gang enhancement,
- Penal Code 518 PC – extortion.
Potential Punishments for a California Criminal Threats Conviction
California Penal Code 422 criminal threats has become more and more prevalent in today's society and if you've got a case in Los Angeles that involves criminal threats, you've got a big problem.
This is because the liberal prosecutors have really started prosecuting this crime quite a bit and people are potentially facing prison time and a stay-away order from whoever it is they're allegedly giving a criminal threat to.
PC 422 is a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. If convicted as a misdemeanor, you are facing:
- up to one year in the county jail, and
- a fine up to $1,000,
- summary probation.
If, however, you are convicted of a felony criminal threats case, you are facing:
- 16 months, 2 or 3 years in a California state prison,
- a fine up to $10,000,
- formal probation.
There are also a host of other consequences based on whatever conduct it is they are claiming you were involved in related to the criminal threat charge.
Finally, as noted, a felony criminal threats qualifies as a strike offense. A third-strike defendant faces a potential life sentence in California state prison.
Defending Criminal Threats Cases
So, probably the first thing you need to decide is whether or not you potentially have a defense to the criminal threat charge.
A lot of times, people do, because sometimes the alleged victim is trying to gain some sort of an advantage over the person they're accusing of Penal Code Section 422 PC.
A lot of times, prosecutors and police are actually sympathetic to this because they realize that people try to take advantage of situations and will make claims that simply are not true.
What I have you do if you've been arrested or being investigated for criminal threats is, we have you come in and sit down in my office and we talk about everything. Like I said, the first thing we're going to decide is whether you have a defense.
If you do have a defense, then we're going to do whatever investigation is necessary to build that defense so we're ready to meet the challenge when the prosecutors arrest you and send you into court.
Mitigation and Seeking Reduced Charges
If you don't have a defense — I've had people leave messages on another person's phone, basically threatening them. That's going to be a problem for a defense.
If you don't have a defense, then we're going to look at mitigation. In other words:
- why was the threat made?
- what's the back story behind it?
- what does your criminal record look like?
- is there any way we can get it reduced down to a misdemeanor?
- can we keep you out of jail?
- are there other charges that might be applicable?
Because you don't want a Penal Code 422 as a felony because that is a strike. You can't get that off your criminal record. So, pick up the phone. Make the call now. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding.
We'll sit down and get our strategy together that makes sense for you and your particular situation and we'll first decide whether or not you have a defense and if you do, we'll start making the moves to assert that defense.
If you don't have a defense, we're going to start making some moves to put mitigation at work for you — get your side of the story out there and get a strategy together that makes sense, so all is not lot.
Just because somebody might not have a defense to a criminal threat, doesn't mean they're just going to give up and do nothing and say, well I'm just going to go with the public defender.
Don't do that because there's a lot at stake, even if you don't have a defense, like jail or prison time, a strike on your record, loss of certain rights, movements being restricted.
The list goes on and on and on, so you don't just stop there. You've got to consider, if I've got to take some sort of conviction, what can I salvage?
What am I looking at as far as potentially getting some sort of conviction that doesn't involve jail time, doesn't involve a strike. So, pick up the phone now. Make the call. I stand at the ready to help you.
Hedding law firm has two office locations in LA County, including 2049 Century Park E #2525 Los Angeles, CA 90067. Call our office for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979, our fill out our contact form.