Previously referred to as a “terrorist threat,” this offense is often associated with domestic violence cases. However, a criminal threat applies in a wide array of situations. The Penal Code Section 422 defines the crime and includes the penalties for anyone found guilty in California.
A criminal threat case can be life-changing because it is a wobbler offense, and each occurrence comes with a strike. This means it can come with extreme or less severe consequences depending on your Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.
What are the Elements of a Criminal Threat in California?
A criminal threat is a complex offense that follows specific criteria of proof in Los Angeles. A judge will need the prosecution to bring certain pieces of evidence before a successful compensation. It must be established that:
- You willfully issued a threat against another person
- The threat was to seriously injure or kill the victim by yourself or through other people
- You made the threat via electronic communication, in writing, or orally
- Your intention was for the statement to be interpreted as a threat
- The threat was specific, unconditional, immediate, and clear
- You had a serious intention and immediate prospect to carry out the threat
- The victim was afraid of their own safety or that of their family
- The victim’s fear was reasonable in those circumstances
Note that even if you had no intentions of executing the threat but wanted your statement to be interpreted as a threat, you might be guilty of the offense.
How is Fear Used as a Factor in a Criminal Threat Case?
Fear is an essential element in a criminal threat case. The prosecution cannot successfully convict you unless they prove that the threat message you sent evoked fear for the victim. Fear is looked at in the following ways:
- The victim was actually fearful
- The fear was reasonable
- The fear was sustained
The questions that ought to be addressed concerning fear include:
- Did the recipient of the threat fear for their life or that of their family?
- Did they try to run away or go into hiding after what you said?
- Did they scoff at your statement and laugh it off?
- Was the fear momentary, transitory, or fleeting?
Remember that fear is examined from case to case. It might have lasted 15 minutes or 15 days, depending on the circumstances. A criminal threats attorney in Los Angeles is always ready to dispute fear allegations.
Which Family Members Can One Feel Fear For?
A criminal threat is required to come with fear for oneself or one’s family. To use this to your advantage, it is essential to understand the alleged threat recipients. The clause covers:
- Any spouse by marriage or not
- Any person related through affinity or consanguinity within the second degree
- Any person that regularly resides in the household
- Anyone that lived periodically in the home within the last six months
So, if your threat didn’t mention any of the persons mentioned above, you can dispute the prosecution’s case on that basis. A Los Angeles criminal threats attorney is always looking for loopholes to explore and use to relieve you of criminal charges.
How Can I Escape a Criminal Threat Conviction in Los Angeles?
A good defense can distinguish between criminal threat cases that end up with an acquittance and those that end up with a conviction.
Some of the defense strategies to use include:
- The threat was not communicated electronically, in writing, or orally
- The statement does not cause reasonable fear
- The words could not make the victim afraid
- The threat is overly ambiguous or vague
- The threat isn’t immediate
A Los Angeles criminal threats attorney can help you pick the most appropriate defenses to relieve you of all charges.
When is the Right to Free Speech Used as a Defense?
Your constitutional right to free speech can be used as a defense against an accusation of criminal threats depending on the circumstances. The words might not qualify as a criminal threat if:
- You were speaking on matters of public concern
- You said it n a public space or forum
- You were expressing your point of view
An example is a political activist in a political rally happening at a public park. It doesn’t automatically constitute a threat if they say something like beating everyone who voted for a particular candidate until they bleed. Of course, the next person might feel afraid, but the activist simply exercised their 1st amendment rights in those circumstances.
How Can I Be Punished if My Actions Constitute a Criminal Threat?
You can be arrested and charged for a criminal threat either as a misdemeanor or a felony because it is one of California’s wobbler offenses. Circumstances surrounding the case and your criminal history are significant determinants in this.
For a misdemeanor, you might be punished with up to a year in jail with fines of up to $1,000. Penalties for a felony criminal threat include:
- Up to three years imprisonment
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- An additional year if a dangerous or deadly weapon was used in making the threat
- A strike on your criminal history
- Life imprisonment if it is a third strike offense
Notably, a conviction and consequent penalties only come after the prosecution has convinced the jury that your actions constitute the legal definition of the crime.
Legal Guidance from an Experienced Criminal Threats Attorney in L.A.
If your actions constitute a criminal threat, you risk spending the rest of your life in prison, depending on the circumstances. The judge examines several factors in deciding whether to convict you or not. It is also common to be charged for a more severe offense instead of a less serious one with lesser punishment.
You need a criminal defense attorney that can fight for you and help you get the best possible outcome. It could be an acquittal or reduced charges. Talk to the Miranda Rights Law Firm lawyers today to learn about the possibilities.