WHAT IS A CRIMINAL THREAT
A criminal threat is when you threaten to kill or physically harm someone and that person feels like their safety or their immediate family’s safety is in jeopardy, the threat that was stated was specific and unequivocal and that the threat was communicated verbally, in writing or through an electronic device. You can be charged with a criminal threat regardless of whether or not you carried it out or even intended to. It is not necessarily the case that you have to threaten to commit a specific crime against a person, if you simply threaten them in a way that makes them fear for their safety or for the safety of their immediate family you could be charged. Before you can be convicted, the prosecutor must prove that you made the victim fear for their safety, this fear must be reasonable and sustained. Conditional or empty threats may qualify as criminal threats.
LEGAL DEFENSES TO CRIMINAL THREAT CHARGE
If the prosecutor cannot prove the elements required to convict you of the crime then you cannot be found guilty of a criminal threat charge. A defense attorney may choose to prove that the threat wasn’t immediate, meaning that the threat issued was so vague in regards to timing that it cannot be possible that it made the alleged victim fear for their safety immediately. An attorney may also argue that the threat was vague or ambiguous itself; they would do this by showing that there was not an adequate set of circumstances surrounding the threat to prove that it in fact rose to the level of a criminal threat. If the alleged victim was not afraid then the act of threatening them does not rise to the level of a criminal threat. If the alleged victims fear was unreasonable, meaning that they panicked for no reason then also the threat does not rise to the level of a criminal threat and therefore you cannot be found guilty. An attorney may also argue that the fear wasn’t sustained, rather, that it was fleeting and momentary before the alleged victim rationalized the likelihood of the threat coming to fruition and realized that it was not going to happen. Finally, if the defense attorney can argue that the threat was protected as free speech then the laws relating to criminal threats do not apply, and you cannot be found guilty.
PENALTIES FOR CRIMINAL THREAT CONVICTION
Criminal threats are what are known as wobblers in California, meaning that they can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The circumstances of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history are what determine whether the crime will be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. If convicted of the misdemeanor, you could face up to one year in county jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. If convicted of the felony, you could face up to 3 years in California state prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. If a deadly weapon such as a knife or gun is used when the threat is made then you could face an additional and consecutive one-year sentence in state prison. Criminal threat is considered a crime of moral turpitude and therefore is viewed as more offensive and reprehensible than other such crimes, being convicted could therefore mean professional discipline or deportation if you are an immigrant.
READY TO FIGHT FOR YOU
If you or a loved one is facing a criminal threat charge, you need an aggressive Orange County criminal defense lawyer on your side. With offices in Costa Mesa, we serve people throughout Southern California, including in Huntington Beach, Irvine, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, and Los Angeles. Call (855) 505-5588 or contact us online for a free initial consultation.