Criminal Threats – Penal Code 422 PC
California Penal Code 422 makes threats of a “criminal nature” against the law in California. The law states as follows:
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.
As you can see, there are many elements that need to fit the facts of the case for something to be considered “criminal threats”. The jury instruction makes the six things to be proven a little clearer:
To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:
1. The defendant willfully threatened to unlawfully kill or unlawfully cause great bodily injury to <insert name of complaining witness>;
2. The defendant made the threat to <insert name of complaining witness> (orally/in writing/by electronic communication device);
3. The defendant intended that (his/her) statement be understood as a threat [and intended that it be communicated to <insert name of complaining witness>];
4. The threat was so clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific that it communicated to <insert name of complaining witness> a serious intention and the immediate prospect that the threat would be carried out;
5. The threat actually caused <insert name of complaining witness> to be in sustained fear for (his/her) own safety [or for the safety of (his/her) immediate family];
6. ______’s<insert name of complaining witness> fear was reasonable under the circumstances.
So, there must be a threat that is specifically to kill or cause great bodily injury to someone, intent that it be understood as a threat, be clear enough to be serious, be immediate, and must cause the person threatened to be in reasonable sustained fear.
Being accused of criminal threats is a serious situation and individuals who have been accused could face jail time and/or fines.
Defending a California Penal Code 422 Accusation:
Attorneys will use a number of defenses for a criminal threats case, depending upon the unique situation of the case and the circumstances surrounding it. Some of the most common defenses for this charge are as follows:
1. The threat was Vague or Ambiguous
If the accused individual made an ambiguous statement toward the alleged victim, or a statement that was not made in a serious way, it is not considered a criminal act. This is also true if the statement was vague and did not actually threaten the alleged victim with death. For instance, if tempers flared at an office and the accused, in the heat of the moment, said, “You better watch your back,” it may not actually be considered a criminal threat. This kind of threat would also be considered ‘not imminent.’
2. The threat was not imminent
If a threat is not backed by evidence that the accused would actually have hurt the individual or that a confrontation was imminent, it may not be considered criminal. For instance, in the case of the above example, the statement was not only vague, but lacked imminence to truly make the alleged victim fear for his or her safety. An imminent and serious threat would be more along the lines of, “When I see you in the parking lot after work, I’m going to get the gun I keep in my car, give you one minute to say your final words, and then I’m going to kill you.”
No Requisite Fear or Fear Unreasonable
In another common defense, if the alleged victim never truly feared for his or her own safety, the threat was not criminal. If they were unreasonably afraid, this may also be used as a defense for penal code 422. An example of no requisite fear would be if the individual plainly knew that the accused was speaking in the moment and without serious intent to follow through on the threat. It must also be determined that any ‘normal’ person would have truly been afraid for his or her safety because of the threat that was made. If that can’t be established, it would be considered ‘fear unreasonable.’
If you’ve been charged with a criminal threat charge, it’s important that you contact an attorney right away. Even if it seems like a minor incident, because you truly didn’t threaten the alleged victim seriously, you could face serious consequences if your defense isn’t properly formed. Our firm can convey your innocence to the court and quite possibly get the charges dropped against you.