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California Criminal Threat Laws

A threat is a wilful expression of intent to cause harm to any person. It is a tool for coercion. Modern society considers the act of threatening or intimidation as an expression of unacceptable behavior. As a result, it is considered a crime under most modern laws. In reality, sometimes people lodge threats when they are angry but do not intend to act on them. However, if the alleged victim feels that they may be acted upon and takes them seriously, the threat itself may be a criminal act.

What is a Criminal Threat Under California Law

Criminal Threat is defined under the California law as a wilful act by which one person threatens to cause the death of another person or to inflict grave bodily injury to any person. Such a threat can be made either verbally, in writing, or through electronic communication using an electronic communication device such as a telephone, cellular phone, computer, etc.

Essential Elements of a Criminal Threat Under California Law

The following are the essential ingredients of the offense of criminal threat:

  1. The person making such a threat must have specific intent to do so. If a person threatens another without any specific intent that his communication is taken as a threat then such communication cannot be construed as a criminal threat.
  2. It is not important under this section that the person had the intention or the capability to execute the threat.
  3. Such communication must be unequivocal, unconditional, and immediate.
  4. Such communication must have the gravity to convey to the threatened person that there is an immediate prospect of execution of the threat.
  5. Such a threat must cause a reasonable person to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety.
Can Threatening Your Spouse or Partner Land You in Custody?

Yes! Under California law, if you threaten a person to inflict grave bodily harm to that person or their immediate family with such gravity that can result in reasoned and sustainable fear for their safety then you have committed a crime under PC 422.

A person who threatens his wife to inflict injury to her body with a weapon in his hand, will be said to have criminally threatened her and additional crimes may be charged.

Can You Threaten Your Boss or Colleagues if You Are Fired From Your Job?

The short answer is No. If you threaten your boss or other colleagues, over a dispute, then you can face action under the criminal law. You can be charged under PC 422 and depending upon the gravity of the offense you can be jailed, fined, or both.

Criminal Threat and Cyberbullying

Though cyberbullying is a treated a crime under different sections of the penal code such as 653, 646, 528, etc. But if a person threatens another person electronically and such threat causes sustained fear of death or grave bodily harm then it will be treated as a crime under PC 422.

Punishment Under California Law

Under the California Law, criminally threatening a person can be treated both as a misdemeanor and a felony depending upon the gravity of the offense.

Under PC 422, such crimes are punishable with a jail term of up to 1 year in county jail. If a person is charged with the felony, you can get up to 4 years in state prison.

Under the California three-strikes laws, convictions under PC 422 is a strike. Because of this, a person convicted under PC 422 is required to serve at least 85% of his prison term before they become eligible for release.

General Defenses Available to a Person Charged Under PC 422
  1. One can contest that the threat was too vague to cause any immediate threat. It is important that such a threat much cause sustained fear of immediate execution of a threat.
    Here, it is important to note that the use of the word “immediate” does not signify that the person threatened is scared of execution of such threat, at the time of communication of such a threat. It may happen that the person threatened is scared because they think that the threat may materialize at a future time.
  2. One can contest that the victim was not in a state of fear because of the threat.
  3. One can contest that no reasonable man will become afraid because of such a threat.
  4. One can contest that the communication was covered under the constitutional protection of free speech.
  5. One can contest that they are falsely accused.
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