Charged with Criminal Threats?
As children many of us heard the saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never wound me.” Times change, and in the State of California today, words can get you sent to prison. The crime of criminal threats, also known as terrorist threats, is defined in California Penal Code Section 422. This crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor (maximum one year county jail), or a felony (a strike, with a maximum sentence of three years in state prison). As with many crimes in California, the definition is hopelessly vague and general. There are five elements that a District Attorney must prove:
(1) The defendant willfully threatened to commit a crime that will result in death or great bodily injury to another person;
(2) The defendant made the threat with the specific intent that the statement be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out;
(3) That the threat-which may be made verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronic communication device-is on its face and under the circumstances in which it was made, 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;
(4) The threat actually causes the person threatened to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for the safety of his or her immediate family;
(5) The threatened person’s fear is reasonable under the circumstances.
As you can see from this, an angry (but not seriously intended): “I’m gonna kill you,” or “I’m gonna mess you up,” can turn into a potential prison case. There are people in prison in California who have done nothing more than mouth off at a “victim” who went on to tell a tall tale to the police.
Because the conduct which can be charged as Criminal Threats is often so insignificant, people arrested for violating Penal Code Section 422 often find it difficult to realize just how much trouble they are in. If you have been arrested for criminal threats, contact Attorney Joseph T. Rhea immediately.