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What Are You Facing If Accused of Making Criminal Threats?


California Penal Code 422 PC makes it a crime to communicate a threat to somebody that could result in great bodily injury or death, commonly known as “criminal threats.”

PC 422 criminalizes threats to harm or kill someone if it puts the victim or someone else in reasonably sustained fear for their safety or that of their loved ones.  The threats involve inflicting a great bodily injury (GBI) or death.

Penal Code 422 PC is frequently connected to domestic violence crimes. The legal definition of this law says, “Anyone who willfully makes a threat to commit a crime resulting in great bodily injury or death to someone, with the intent their statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent to carrying it out, which was specific to the person threatened, an immediate prospect of execution, causing the victim to be in fear of their safety or immediate family.”

The threat could be verbal, written, or through the form of electronic communication, such as text messages or email.

Criminal threats are considered a severe crime, exposing a defendant to the provisions of California’s three-strikes law and resulting in a significant state prison sentence.  Let’s review this law in more detail below.

Misdemeanor vs. Felony Criminal Threats Charges

These criminal threat cases are severe, especially in California in big cities like Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Ventura County.Misdemeanor vs. Felony Criminal Threats Charges

The prosecutors and judges take these cases very seriously. Depending on the facts and circumstances, whether or not you have a criminal record, and whether or not you had the means to carry out the threat, you could be facing years in prison and a strike on your record.

These are severe cases that need the best defense.  I’ve been defending people for criminal threat cases, Penal Code Section 422, for approximately 30 years, and I’ve seen this crime change.

When the Three Strikes Law came out in 1994, this was not a strike.  Since then, it’s been changed to a strike.  So, if you get convicted, you’ll have a strike on your record for the rest of your life – at least if you live in California.

So, when I say what type of charges you are facing, you could be faced with a felony Penal Code Section 422, or you could be charged with a misdemeanor Penal Code Section 422, and sometimes the line between the two is very murky. Usually, in most cases, I would say a person is going to be charged with a misdemeanor if they:

  • have no criminal record, and
  • they didn’t have a weapon.

Perhaps they were not armed with weapons when threatening to kill somebody and marching over to their house when the police arrested them. On the flip side, they could face PC 422 felony charges:

  • if the person has a record,
  • if they have prior violent convictions for felonies, and
  • they’re threatening to kill somebody, and it looks like they were serious about the threat.

The prosecutor could file a felony in that situation.  It’s a wobbler crime, and they’re going to look at several different factors in determining whether it’s filed as a felony or a misdemeanor; there could be other charges that go along with it, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

What are the Related Crimes for Penal Code 422?

What Are the Best Legal Defense Strategies?

Ultimately what you end up pleading to has a lot of different factors at play.  Of course, having the best criminal defense attorney would be significant. Best Legal Defense Strategies for Criminal Threats

You don’t want to plead to a felony Section 422 as a strike.  You may not even have to plead to a Penal Code Section 422 if the prosecutors don’t have the evidence to substantiate the case.

Maybe some other charge is warranted, or perhaps you’re innocent and didn’t commit any crime and, therefore, should not be charged with a crime.

This is one of the determinations I try to make right off the top when a client hires me:

  • Do the prosecutors have the evidence to prove the case?
  • Is there any investigation we can do to get the other side of the story out to the police, prosecutors, and the judge?
  • If they have the evidence, what is the likelihood the case will be filed and convicted as a felony versus a misdemeanor?
  • How much punishment are you facing?
  • Are you facing jail time?
  • Are you facing prison time?
  • Can we keep you out of jail?
  • Can we get some alternate sentences?
  • Can we mitigate the case’s circumstances to show your side of the story?

Maybe there’s another motive at play here.  I’ve had cases where current spouses claim somebody threatened to kill them – their significant other – because they want to gain an advantage in a divorce case, and it’s a complete lie.

Nobody threatened anybody.  I’ve had other cases where money is owed to somebody, and the person that owes the money is now going to claim that they are being threatened to get an advantage against the person they owe the money to so they don’t have to pay the money. There are all sorts of stuff going on.

But, to adequately address your rights – to properly try to keep yourself out of prison and jail and to have a strike on your record – you need the best.

Contact a Criminal Threats Defense Professional

Put my 30 years of experience to work for you.  I’ve worked for the district attorney’s office.  I’ve worked for a superior court judge and for people like you since the early 1990s, defending them for criminal threat cases.

Criminal Threats Defense Professional

It used to be a terrorist threat, changing it to a criminal threat.  Really what they’re trying to do is prevent people from gaining an advantage or try to scare somebody into doing something they shouldn’t have to do. They take these cases very seriously, both police and prosecutors, and they prosecute them vigorously.

You don’t want this type of conviction on your record if you can help it.  If you have to swallow this conviction, you certainly don’t want a lengthy prison sentence.

So, if you or a loved one is charged with criminal threats, you’re looking for the best; you want to fight the charges, mitigate the charges, keep out of custody, and pick up the phone now.  Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding at the Hedding Law Firm.  We offer a free case evaluation by phone or fill out the contact form.

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About the Author

Named Top Los Angeles Criminal Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 criminal defense attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.

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