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Criminal and Terrorist Threats

What are Criminal and Terrorist Threats?

“Criminal Threats” were formerly known as “Terrorist Threats” and are delineated under Penal Code Section 422. It is what is called a “wobbler”, that is, that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending upon how serious the prosecuting attorney’s office believes the alleged crime to be. A felony conviction of criminal threats is a “Strike” for purposes of the “Three-Strikes Law” in California which means a second felony conviction results in a doubling of the sentence and a third felony means 25 years to life in prison. The bail for criminal threats is usually quite high, for example, $50,000.00 in Los Angeles County.

A criminal threat occurs when the following has occurred:

  • You threaten to kill or physically harm someone, and:
  • That person is thereby placed in a state of reasonably sustained fear for their safety or that of their immediate family;
  • The threat is specific and unequivocal, and:
  • You communicate the threat verbally, in writing, or by means of an electronically transmitted device;
  • It does not matter whether or not you actually have the ability to carry out the threat – even if you don’t intend to actually carry out the threat.

When and Why Criminal Threats are Charged?

Criminal threats often arise in the context of a domestic violence situation. For example, there is a fight between a couple and words are exchanged in anger such as “I’m going to kill you” without any intent to do any such thing by the party who said them. However, if the other party reasonably believes the words, and is placed in sustained fear by them, then criminal threats can be charged and a criminal case can begin. Police often use the charge of criminal threats, even if they know they cannot get the district attorney to prosecute. This is used as a means of assuring that the party will spend some time in jail and/or have to lose a large bail premium to get out of custody. While certainly not fair, it is a reality in many cases.

Of course, criminal threats can arise in many other situations such as when someone has lost their job and threatens a boss, or a road rage incident has arisen and one driver threatens another and then follows them. Threats pertaining to guns are especially prevalent. This could be a threat to shoot someone which can certainly be considered a criminal threat even if the person has no ability or intention to do so.

How Do I Fight a Criminal Threats Charge?

  • The first defense is that the allegation is simply false. A trial may be necessary to prove it and an experienced criminal defense attorney is an absolute must.
  • If the threat was not conveyed verbally, electronically or in writing then there cannot be a criminal threat as contemplated under Penal Code Section 422. Gestures alone are not enough to make a criminal threat under the law.
  • If the threat was vague or ambiguous and not specific there is no violation of Penal Code Section 422. For example, saying “Someday I’m going to get anyone who was ever mean to me” is just too vague, ambiguous and non-specific to constitute a criminal threat.
  • If the person who received the threat only had a fear that was momentary or fleeting, you have not violated Penal Code Section 422.
  • If the person who received the threat could not have reasonably feared for their safety there is no violation of the law. This means that a reasonable person would not have feared for their safety i.e., not a super-sensitive person who sees a threat around every corner.
  • Finally, of course, a person who receives an alleged threat who was not actually in fear has not been a victim of a criminal threat.

What are the Possible Penalties?

Misdemeanor criminal threats carry a maximum of 1 year in county jail. Felony criminal threats carry up to 4 years in state prison plus using a deadly or dangerous weapon increases the penalty by 1 year. As mentioned above a felony criminal threat conviction is a “strike” and there is no 50% “good time/work time” reduction of sentence, i.e. you must serve 85% of the sentence.

What Can a Good Attorney do for Me?

You need to hire an attorney experienced with the law, cases, and procedures concerning criminal threats immediately after you are arrested. A good criminal attorney can thoroughly investigate the case - they should make certain all defenses are explored, explain the procedures involved, and leave no stone unturned in trying to obtain and keeping your freedom. Call Kenneth H. Lewis now for help with any criminal threats charge.

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