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How to Beat a Criminal Threat Charge
The 5 most common defenses to a criminal threats charge are that to demonstrate that:
Which of these legal defenses is the best option will depend on the circumstances. A criminal defense lawyer from a local law office can help a defendant beat a criminal threats charge.
California Penal Code Section 422 PC makes it a crime to threaten someone else with immediate harm. If the threat intends to instill fear, and does in fact cause a reasonable and sustained fear in the recipient of the threat, then it is a criminal threat.1
To prove a case of criminal threatening, prosecutors have to show the following elements of the offense:
The crime of making a criminal threat used to be known as a “terrorist threat.”
5 of the most common defenses to a charge of making criminal threats in California are:
Threats have to be very specific to be a criminal threat under California law. If the surrounding circumstances make it unclear what will happen, then the threat may be too vague to amount to a crime.3 Criminal threats also have to threaten immediate harm. The immediacy of a criminal threat can be close to the present time, or at a particular time in the future. It can even be conditional on a future event. However, if the threat is vague about when the physical harm is to happen, it may not amount to a criminal threat.4
The recipient of the threat must have a reasonable fear that it will be carried out. This means that the threat must be one that would make a normal, reasonable person concerned. If the threat involves conduct that is impossible to execute, any fear felt by the recipient may be unreasonable. This would prevent the threat from being criminal.5
Threats that are made solely made through a gesture are not covered by California’s criminal threats law. California Penal Code 422 PC only recognizes threats that are:
In some cases, the recipient of an alleged threat is actually making false allegations. He or she knows that no threat was made, but they are accusing the defendant because they are angry or vengeful. Criminal threats – especially those that are verbal and have no paper trial or electronic record – are a common false accusation to make because the offense does not require physical injuries. They are especially common in domestic violence cases.
Finally, defendants often argue that no threat was actually made. Specifically, this argument can be that:
Because it is up to the prosecutor to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, these defenses only have to raise a reasonable doubt to work. A criminal defense attorney from a reputable law firm can help to make this happen, and will know which defense strategies are best for particular criminal threats cases.
Making a criminal threat is a wobbler in California. This means that it can be prosecuted either as a misdemeanor or as a felony. Prosecutors make this decision based on the defendant’s criminal history and on the circumstances of the case.
The penalties will depend on whether the criminal threats charge is being pursued as a felony or as a misdemeanor.
If pursued as a misdemeanor, a conviction carries up to:
If pursued as a felony, the potential penalties are up to:
Because it is a strike, a felony conviction for making a criminal threat will require the defendant to serve at least 85% of his or her prison sentence before being eligible for parole.
If a deadly or dangerous weapon was used to communicate the threat, 1 year will be added to the potential prison term.7
These penalties are for each threat that was made. Multiple distinct threats happen when:
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.