Criminal threats are taken very seriously by prosecutors in the state of California. With the advent of laws against cyber-stalking and zero tolerance policies against "cyber-bullying" in schools and colleges, prosecutors take these cases extremely seriously. Accordingly, §422 of the California Penal Code makes it illegal to make criminal threats.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A CRIMINAL THREAT?
According to CPC §422, there are three necessary elements of a criminal threat (listed below). Each one will need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecutor in order to convict you.
1. First and foremost, you must have threatened to kill or cause great bodily injury to another person. This is the most basic requirement of the charge.
2. Next, the threat made must be so “unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific” as to cause the person who has been threatened to be placed in a state of reasonably sustained fear for his/her own safety or for his/her immediate family’s safety.
3. Lastly, the threat must have actually been communicated either verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device such as a computer or cell phone.
It is also important to note that you can be convicted of making criminal threats even if you did not have the ability to carry out the threat! Moreover, you can be convicted even if it was an empty threat in that you did not actually intend on carrying out the threat! That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced attorney by your side to know what defenses will and will not work.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR MAKING A CRIMINAL THREAT?
CPC §422 is considered a “wobbler” meaning that it can either be filed as a misdemeanor or as a felony, depending on the circumstances.
For example, if you are convicted of a misdemeanor criminal threat, you face up to one year in county jail. Alternatively, if you are convicted of a felony criminal threat, you face up to four years in a state prison. In addition, the use of a dangerous or deadly weapon may increase your sentence by up to one year.
On top of everything mentioned above, a criminal threat conviction also counts as a strike under California’s Three-Strikes law.