Criminal Threat Law
criminal threat

Criminal Threat: Words Alone Can Land You In Jail

After 15 years as an Orange County criminal defense attorney I cannot understate the importance of keeping your cool when roused to anger. You see, when I was a kid in the 60’s and 70’s, there was no such thing as a criminal threat. It was common practice for folks to say thinks like “I’ll kill you” or “you are dead” or “I’m gonna kick your butt”. Back then, the legal system didn’t consider mere threats actionable in criminal court. But those days are far behind us. Today, threatening words by themselves can land you in the Orange County jail or the California prison under California’s criminal threat statute, formerly known as terrorist threats.

What Constitutes A Criminal Threat

We Huntington Beach criminal defense lawyers know that not all threats are illegal under the criminal threats statute. Not even all threats of violence are illegal. In order to be prosecuted by the Orange County District Attorney, the threat must be one of death or bodily injury. Moreover, the person (defendant) uttering the threat must intend it to be taken as a threat. However, the defendant need not intend to actually carry out the threat. Also, a general threat is not actionable as a criminal threat. A statements like “you’re gonna pay for this” or “I’ll get you” are not actionable as criminal threats because they are vague and ambiguous. Furthermore, a criminal threat must convey an imminent intent to carry it out.  Finally, the criminal threat must cause reasonable fear in the person threatened.

criminal threat

The Criminal Threat Statute

The law governing criminal threats is found in California Penal Code Section 422. This section states:

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 by means of 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 own safety or for 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.

Because this statute is quite complex, there is often room for a skilled Irvine criminal defense lawyer to defend against a criminal threats charge.

Penalties For A Criminal Threat

A criminal threat can be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. It is within the discretion of the Orange County District Attorney to decide how to charge it. Generally, the DA will consider how bad the threat is and the circumstances behind the threat being made. For example, whether the defendant also committed domestic violence like domestic battery or corporal injury. The DA also considers the defendant’s criminal record in deciding whether to charge a criminal threat as a felony or as a misdemeanor.

A felony charge for a criminal threat is a strike offense. This means that if this is a first strike, the defendant must serve at least 85% of the sentence imposed. Furthermore, any future convictions will result in double punishment. If the DA files the criminal threat as a felony, your San Juan Capistrano criminal defense lawyer can petition the judge to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor. If that fails, your Mission Viejo criminal defense attorney can set the case for trial and pressure the DA to reduce it to a misdemeanor. If the case against you is not strong, the DA may relent to your criminal defense lawyer’s pressure and offer to settle the case for a misdemeanor.

If you are convicted of misdemeanor criminal threats, you face up to a year in the Orange County jail and five years of probation—either formal or informal. A felony carries up to three years in prison. It is important to note that a criminal threat, whether charged as a felony or a misdemeanor, is a crime of “moral turpitude”. This means a conviction for criminal threats on your record could result in denial or suspension of any professional license, such as real estate agent, Newport Beach criminal defense lawyer, doctor, or contractor. Conviction could also result in deportation or other immigration consequences.

Free Telephonic Consultation With An Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

Call The Law Office of EJ Stopyro at (949) 559-5500 today for a free and confidential telephonic consultation with a seasoned criminal defense attorney. EJ will be happy to explain the nuances of the law, what will happen in court, and your options.

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