What are Criminal Threats?
Criminal threats are when you threaten to harm another person with the intent of doing so and instill reasonable and ongoing fear in that person. In order to be convicted of this crime, these four elements must be proven true.
- You willfully intended to cause serious injury or death to another person.
- You intended for your verbal, written or electronic statement to be received as a threat.
- The threat on the surface was “unequivocal, unconditional, immediate and specific” so it was conveyed as to be executed immediately.
- The person being threatened was reasonably scared for his/her safety or the safety of his/her immediate family.
Penalties for Criminal Threats
This crime is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances and your criminal history.
Penalties as a Misdemeanor
If convicted as a misdemeanor the penalties include:
- Up to one year in a county jail, and
- A maximum fine of $1,000.
Penalties as a Felony
If convicted as a felony the penalties include:
- Up to three years in a California state prison, and
- A maximum fine of $10,000.
If you use a deadly or dangerous weapon while making the criminal threats, then you face an additional and consecutive one-year in a state prison. If you make threats more than once, against multiple people, or with different objectives then you could face penalties for each threat that is made.
When charged as a felony, this crime becomes a “strike” under California’s three strike law.
Legal Defenses for Criminal Threats
Since all four of the four above elements have to be proven true in order to be convicted of this crime, there are a number of legal defenses that can be used. Here are some of the most common legal defenses for criminal threats.
The threat was not immediate.
The threat needs to convey an immediate possibility of execution. This doesn’t mean that it needs to happen right that second but could also be a threat where someone needs to comply with your demands at a later point or you will cause them injury or death. The defense comes into play if the threat was so vague that there was no sense of when you would execute the threat.
The threat was vague or ambiguous.
A criminal threat must be specific but it doesn’t have to have a time of execution. If the threat is vague but the surrounding circumstances clarify the meaning then it will qualify as a criminal threat. If those surrounding circumstances are non-existent then it can be used a legal defense. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will know how to get to the truth of the surrounding circumstances.
The person being threatened was not afraid.
The victim has to have fear from a criminal threat. If they were not afraid because they believed you were joking or were not capable of carrying out the threat, then you cannot be charged.
The threat or alleged victim’s fear was unreasonable.
If the alleged victim is scared of a threat that is unreasonable to do under the circumstance, then it doesn’t matter if they were scared. The fear has to be both reasonable and real.
The fear was not ongoing.
If the fear that was caused by the criminal threats only lasted a fleeting moment and did not cause any prolonged concern, then you should not be convicted of this crime. If the fear was ongoing but was not reasonable then that may be a defense as well.
The threat was protected as free speech.
If you were speaking angrily or ranting, even if violent, but not trying to instill fear in others, then you are protected by free speech.
You were falsely accused.
Because physical injury doesn’t actually have to take place, criminal threats is a common crime for false accusations. This can be done out of jealousy, anger, or trying to get out of his/her own criminal liability.
If you have been accused of criminal threats, it’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to fight for you.