California Penal Code 422 is the statute that makes it a crime to communicate a threat to somebody that could result in great bodily injury or death, which is known as “criminal threats.”
This law prohibits threatening to harm or kill another person if the threat places the victim in reasonably sustained fear for their safety or that of their family.
The unlawful threat must inflict a great bodily injury (GBI) or death. Penal Code 422 PC criminal threats are frequently connected to domestic violence crimes.
Laws of Criminal Threats in Los Angeles
(a) 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.
(b) For purposes of this section, “immediate family” means any spouse, whether by marriage or not, parent, child, any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree, or any other person who regularly resides in the household, or who, within the prior six months, regularly resided in the household.
(c) “Electronic communication device” includes, but is not limited to, telephones, cellular telephones, computers, video recorders, fax machines, or pagers. “Electronic communication” has the same meaning as the term defined in Subsection 12 of Section 2510 of Title 18 of the United States Code.
The crime of “criminal threats” is described under California Penal Code Section 422 and is often associated with domestic violence related cases, but also covers a wide range of situations. This statute, formerly known as “terrorist threat,” make it a crime to willfully threaten someone to immediate harm them which might result in great bodily injury or death, even when you don’t intend to carry out the act.
The type of threats we are talking about here are normally verbal, but also can be accomplished in writing or through electronic communication, such as email, text, or social media. It should be noted that while the freedom of speech is protected under the First Amendment of the United States, it doesn’t include the right to makes threats of violence to other people that place them in fear of their safety.
In order to be charged with PC 422 criminal threats, you don’t have to just communicate threats directly toward the victim. It also includes making threats to their immediate family members or even a third party, if your intent was to relay a threat to the victim.
Penalties and Consequences
California Penal Code 422 PC is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense. If you are convicted of misdemeanor criminal threats, then you are facing the following:
- Up to one a year in county jail,
- A fine of up to $1,000,
- Summary probation.
If convicted of a felony PC 422 criminal threats, then you are facing:
- 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison,
- A fine of up to $10,000,
- Formal probation.
You could be sentenced to an additional year in prison if you used a deadly or dangerous weapon to communicate a criminal threat.
Also keep in mind that a PC 422 felony conviction is considered a “strike” under the three-strikes law, meaning it can significantly increase a prison sentence for second and subsequent convictions if the perpetrator has a strike on their record. A third strike could result in a life prison sentence.
Strategies and Legal Defenses
There are cases where the defendant would have a valid defense if charged with this offense because are not guilty of criminal threats when:
- The threat is not immediate,
- The threat is overly vague or ambiguous,
- The threat does not make the victim afraid,
- The threat does not cause reasonable fear,
- The threat was not communicated orally, in writing or via electronic communications.
Several defense strategies are discussed below if you were charged with criminal threats in violation of Penal Code 422 PC. But most importantly you need to start by hiring an experienced Loa Angeles Domestic Violence lawyer to be on you side step by step.
We can argue that the victim was not placed in fear of their safety as this element is subjective. We can also say that the prosecutor can’t prove the fear was sustained.
We could argue that the threat didn’t involve great bodily injury or death. Even though a threat was made, maybe it was minor and did not rise to the level of involving a great bodily injury or death.
We can argue that you are the victim of a false allegation. Maybe we can show you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested. Maybe the alleged victim was motivated by anger or jealousy after an ugly breakup. Perhaps they were trying to evade their involvement in a crime.
We can argue that the threat was vague or ambiguous and was not specific to the victim. This could be proven by explaining the circumstances surrounding the incident. Which means your statement doesn’t qualify as a criminal threat.
We can argue that the threat wasn’t immediate. The law text in PC 422 says the threat must be so “unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific” that it conveys an immediate possibility of execution.
Legal Advice and Free Consultation
If you or a family member were charged with the serious crime of criminal threats under Penal Code Section 422, do not hesitate to contact our experienced teams of defense lawyers for a case review and to discuss legal options and defense strategies that could be applied in your specific case.