At one time or another, most of us have experienced some type of threat. A parent may threaten a child with a loss of allowance if they don’t do their homework, or an employer may threaten their employee with dismissal if they’re caught stealing company time. However, a threat can become a criminal offense when specific elements are combined. Referred to as “terroristic threats,” these offenses are not typically afforded free speech protections and open up a wide range of serious consequences for the people issuing them.
If you’ve been accused of making a criminal threat, it’s important to act swiftly. Being found guilty of violating California Penal Code 422 PC carries up to a four-year prison sentence in some cases, and up to $10,000 in fines—not including restitution. If you have been charged with making terroristic threats, you need to find an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. Luckily, you don’t have to look too far.
The Law Office of Cherish Om has a proven record of success in defending criminal threat charges in California and can guide you through the legal process. This article will explain everything you need to know about terroristic threat offenses, including the possible penalties for conviction and the best strategies for defending your future.
Have you been charged with making criminal threats? The sooner you secure representation, the sooner your attorney can start building your defense. Contact the Law Office of Cherish Om to schedule a consultation and get the help you deserve.
Understanding Criminal Threats Charges in California
Many of our clients who have been charged with making criminal threats are confused as to what this offense really means. According to California Penal Code 422 PC, a criminal threat is made when someone willfully threatens to commit a crime that will result in great bodily injury or death to another person.
This threat does not need to be made in person for it to constitute a terroristic threat; it can also be made in writing or by means of an electronic communication device. Additionally, the person issuing the threat does not have to intend to carry out their threat for it to be criminal. If the threat is made “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,” it is a prosecutable offense under Penal Code 422 PC.
Actual Fear vs. Reasonable Fear vs. Sustained Fear
In the legal world, fear can be categorized into three distinct types: actual fear, reasonable fear, and sustained fear. Actual fear is an instinctive response to immediate threats, triggering the fight-or-flight response, such as encountering a wild animal. Reasonable fear is a nuanced emotion based on a rational evaluation of potential risks, considering factors like probability and consequences.
Sustained fear, not necessarily tied to an immediate threat, persists over time due to the imminent possibility of danger, impacting mental and physical well-being. In assessing threats under California Penal Code 422 PC, the judge considers sustained fear a crucial element.
Empty Threat vs. Conditional Threat
There’s an obvious difference between saying “I could kill you for embarrassing me like that!” as a light-hearted response and threatening someone with physical injury or death out of anger. More specifically, California Penal Code 422 PC specifies that a criminal threat must be made with:
“…intent that their statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent to actually carrying it out, which was specific to the person threatened, an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, causing a victim to be in fear of their safety or immediate family”
When determining whether or not a threat violates California Penal Code 422 PC, a judge assesses whether it is an empty threat or a conditional threat. Both convey potential harm but differ in intent and likelihood of execution. Whereas an empty threat is impulsive, lacking intent or capability to be fulfilled, a conditional threat is linked to specific conditions, showing genuine intent to follow through if met. The judge considers context, the individual’s history, and the likelihood of the threat being realized when evaluating its validity under the law.
What Must Be Proven for a Conviction?
According to California’s criminal threats law, a threat is defined as a “criminal threat” in violation of California Penal Code 422 PC when the following elements are present:
- The threat is communicated verbally, through writing, or electronically (such as through text messages, emails, online profiles, etc.)
- The threat was made willfully and communicated actual intent to kill or injure a specific person.
- The threat resulted in the alleged victim having sustained fear for their own safety or the safety of their immediate family.
The important thing to remember is that while the threat in question might have made the victim uncomfortable, or even fearful, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be considered a criminal threat in the eyes of the law.
Criminal Threats Penalties
If the court finds the defendant guilty of California Penal Code 422 PC, the next thing that will be decided is whether the violation can be categorized as a misdemeanor or if it will be defaulted as a felony violation. In order to be charged as a misdemeanor, the defense will need to demonstrate various circumstances, such as a defendant’s unlikeliness to re-offend. There are different sets of penalties for misdemeanor criminal threats and felony criminal threats, which we will discuss below.
Misdemeanor Criminal Threats Penalties
California Penal Code 422 PC is a “wobbler charge,” meaning it can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor—an important distinction, especially when considering that misdemeanors are typically treated more leniently. Misdemeanor criminal threats are generally punishable by:
- Up to one year in county jail. A conviction may lead to a sentence of incarceration in the county jail for a maximum period of one year. The actual sentence may vary based on the specifics of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, and other relevant factors.
- Fines. In addition to incarceration, the court may impose fines as part of the penalty. The amount of the fine can vary, but the maximum will be $1000.
- Probation. Instead of or in addition to jail time, the court may impose probation. During probation, the individual must comply with specific conditions, such as attending counseling, performing community service, or refraining from further criminal conduct.
- Restraining orders. The court may issue a restraining order, prohibiting the defendant from contacting the victim or engaging in other specified behaviors. Violation of a restraining order can lead to additional criminal charges.
Again, it’s important to note that it’s up to the defense to prove that the criminal threat can be diminished to a less serious version of the charge; otherwise, the defendant will be automatically charged with a felony.
Felony Criminal Threats Penalties
If the prosecution decides to pursue felony charges for criminal threats under California law, and the defense is unable to prove that the violation can be considered a misdemeanor, the potential penalties become more severe. Felony criminal threats are punishable by the following:
- State prison sentence. A conviction for felony criminal threats can result in a state prison sentence. The length of imprisonment depends on factors such as the specific circumstances of the threat, the defendant’s criminal history, and any enhancements that may apply (such as the use of a dangerous weapon or deadly weapon to make the threat), but typically, the defendant will be facing up to three years in California state prison.
- Strike under California’s Three Strikes Law. A felony conviction for criminal threats is considered a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law. Accumulating multiple strikes can lead to enhanced penalties for future convictions.
- Fines. Felony convictions can be associated with substantial fines of up to $10,000, adding a financial burden to the legal consequences.
- Probation. While probation is more likely in misdemeanor cases, some felony cases may involve probation as part of the sentence. Probation conditions are generally more stringent for felony offenses.
- Restitution. The court may order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim to compensate for any losses resulting from the criminal threats.
As you can see, the potential penalties associated with a criminal threat case can vary drastically. Even if you’ve already been convicted of a criminal or terrorist threat, you may still have a chance to receive a lighter sentence if you can prove that the threat you made can be categorized as a misdemeanor. The Law Office of Cherish Om is experienced with the legal intricacies of the sentencing phase in criminal threat cases and can help you avoid undeserved prison time or fines. Contact us today for more information.
Possible Defense Strategies for Terroristic Threats Charges
When facing charges under California Penal Code 422 PC for criminal threats, it is crucial to develop a strong defense strategy to challenge the accusations and protect your rights. Several defense strategies may be employed, depending on the specific circumstances of the case.
Lack of Immediacy
If the threat was not immediate, meaning that there was no imminent danger of bodily harm, it may be argued that the statement did not meet the criteria for a criminal threat. Establishing that there was no immediate threat can be a key element in undermining the prosecution’s case.
Vague or Ambiguous Threat
A defense strategy may involve arguing that the alleged threat was vague or ambiguous, making it unclear whether a true threat was communicated. The prosecution must demonstrate that the communication was unambiguous and conveyed a genuine intent to cause fear.
Lack of Fear
If the victim did not experience genuine fear as a result of the alleged threat, it may be possible to challenge the validity of the criminal threat charge. Demonstrating that the victim did not perceive the statement as a serious threat can weaken the prosecution’s case.
Unreasonableness of Fear
Arguing that the victim’s fear was unreasonable can be a valid defense strategy. If you can show that a reasonable person in the same situation would not have been afraid, it may cast reasonable doubt on the validity of the criminal threat charge.
Lack of Sustained Fear
Establishing that the victim’s fear was not sustained over time can be a relevant defense. If the fear was momentary and not long-lasting, it may be argued that the emotional distress did not reach the level required for a criminal threat conviction.
Defending the alleged threat as protected free speech is another strategy. Constitutional protections may apply if the statement falls within the realm of political, artistic, or other forms of expressive speech. Demonstrating that the communication was not a genuine threat but rather a protected expression may lead to a dismissal of charges.
If you believe you are the victim of false accusations, it is essential to build a defense around proving your innocence. This may involve presenting evidence that contradicts the accuser’s claims, establishing an alibi, or demonstrating a lack of motive on your part.
Terroristic Threats Penal Code PC 422 FAQs
The legal landscape surrounding criminal threats is complex, and navigating it often requires assistance from a dedicated criminal defense attorney. If you have questions about your charges, the best thing to do is speak with a trusted attorney. In the meantime, read through the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.
• Is 422 pc a felony or misdemeanor?
California Penal Code 422 PC can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of the case and the prosecutor’s discretion. This is what’s known as a “wobbler” offense.
• What makes 422 PC a felony?
While there is no hard-and-fast rule about when to charge 422 PC as a felony, the severity of the offense is often the determining factor. A grave offense is determined by assessing the nature of the threat, the relationship between the parties involved, and any prior criminal history. Each of these elements can contribute to the decision to charge a violation of Penal Code 422 PC as a felony.
• What is the minimum penalty for 422 PC?
There is no minimum penalty for a criminal threat conviction in California.
• What do you need to prove in order to convict someone of a 422 PC?
To convict someone of a violation of Penal Code 422 PC, the prosecution typically needs to prove that the defendant made a threat with the intent to terrorize or cause fear and that the threat was communicated in a way that was clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific.
The Law Office of Cherish Om: Trusted Criminal Defense Lawyers in CA
Still have questions? California Penal Code 422 PC can be confusing to interpret, but luckily, we have years of experience defending cases involving criminal threats. Whether you need representation or just have a few questions, our law firm here to help! Contact us through our online form.