A “Criminal Threat” is a verbal threat of immediate harm to a person that is intended to cause fear in that person and causes the person to reasonably feel threatened. Criminal Threats can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony and, if charged as a felony, it is classified as a “serious felony” and a conviction qualifies as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Elements of Criminal Threats
The prosecution must prove the following facts to convict a defendant of Criminal Threats:
- Intentional Statement of a Threat – Defendant intentionally made a statement threatening to kill or inflict great bodily injury on another person
- The Threat Was Oral or Written – The stated threat was spoken or made in writing by hand or electronically
- The Threat Was Intended to be Understood as a Threat – Defendant intended that the other person understand the statement as a threat
- Then Threat Was Clear and Capable of Being Carried Out Immediately – The threat was so clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific that it showed a serious intention and the immediate prospect that it would be carried out
- The Threat Caused Fear – The threat caused sustained fear for the other person’s safety or the safety of her or his immediate family
- The Victim’s Fear of the Threat Was Reasonable – The victim’s fear was reasonable under the circumstances
Punishment for Criminal Threats
- Misdemeanor Criminal Threats is punishable by up to 1 year in Los Angeles County jail.
- Felony Criminal Threats is punishable by up to 3 years in prison, and it is also classified as a “serious felony” and qualifies as a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Defenses to Criminal Threats Charges
Depending on the facts of the case, potential defenses to a criminal threats charge may include:
- Lack of Intent – Criminal Threats is a specific intent crime and the Defendant did not intend his statement to be taken as a threat
- Lack of Clarity or Immediacy – Defendant’s threatened conduct was not powerful, specific or immediate enough to qualify as a Criminal Threat
Lack of Reasonable Fear by the Victim – The victim’s alleged fear of defendant’s conduct must be objectively reasonable. It is not a criminal threat if the defendant’s statement could not reasonably have been understood to threaten life or great bodily injury