“Just” Words: Why Making Criminal Threats is a Serious Crime
Not many people know that just making a threat to another person can constitute a crime in California. Los Angeles prosecutors take criminal threats seriously and will aggressively prosecute anyone thought to have made them.
Under California Penal Code section 422(a), using words to threaten physical violence, whether it be in person, via email, or by text message, is punishable as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances.
Moreover, California utilizes the “three strikes” system to deter criminal recidivism, and a criminal threats conviction will lead to a strike against your criminal record. If you are facing charges of making criminal threats, do not take the allegations lightly. Do not speak to the police if you are under investigation. Call us for a free consultation to discuss your case.
Overview of Criminal Threats
Criminal threats are often made in heated disputes and may come in conjunction with criminal charges being filed against you. For example, someone may threaten to kill a victim but hit them at that time. Criminal threat charges may be filed in addition to or in lieu of any assault or battery charges filed arising from the same incident, and this is true even if the declarant never intended to carry out the threat.
Simply making a threat does not make you guilty of a criminal threats crime. In fact, the prosecution must prove a number of things beyond a reasonable doubt in order to successfully convict a defendant under this statute:
- The defendant willfully threatened to unlawfully kill or unlawfully cause great bodily injury to the alleged victim or their immediate family;
- The defendant made the threat orally/ in writing/by electronic communication device;
- The defendant intended that their statement be understood as a threat [and intended that it be communicated to the alleged victim];
- The threat was so clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific that it communicated to the complaining witness a serious intention and the immediate prospect that the threat would be carried out; and
- The threat actually caused the alleged victim to be in sustained fear for their own safety or for the safety of their immediate family
As you can see, the prosecution has many elements they need to prove in order to convict a defendant.
It is for this reason that taking a plea deal or talking to the police is not in your best interest if charges have been filed against you. Plea deals can sound reasonable on paper, and may even be a viable option for some criminal defendants, but you should never take a plea deal without first speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with the court system, prosecutors, and your alternative options. Some first-time offenders may be eligible for programs that, once completed, will lead to no conviction being placed on your record; your options depend on the nature of the crime and your prior criminal conduct, if any.
Criminal Threats Defense Attorney in Los Angeles
It is critical to understand that a criminal threats charge against you can be a serious offense and may affect both your personal and professional life and opportunities, if convicted. This is why is important to contact a knowledgeable criminal threats defense lawyer right away if you are being accused of this conduct. By the time you accept a plea deal or go to trial, it may be too late to protect some of your legal rights.