California P.C. 422(a): Criminal Threats

A conviction for criminal threats can carry substantial consequences which is why one should immediately retain a criminal defense attorney to start your defense. This charge may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony with a “strike” allegation. Consequently, if one is convicted of a strike offense, their sentence will double if they’re subsequently convicted of another felony. Often times, this charge consists of only one witness making an allegation that you threatened them without any recorded (video and or audio) evidence.

Additionally, it’s imperative for a criminal defense attorney to obtain all the facts and circumstances of the case because people generally don’t threaten someone for no reason. Perhaps the “threat” could have been a joke, or resulted in an assertion of self-defense, or the alleged victim is substantially exaggerating the circumstances. A majority of cases result in a police officer or detective contacting you to give a statement concerning the incident. Do not give any statement to any police officer and immediately contact an attorney. Speaking with the police or a detective will never help you avoid criminal prosecution.

Contact Attorney John Rogers Immediately

Los Angeles Criminal Threats Lawyer John Rogers understands that charges for criminal threats can occur at any time of day which is why he makes himself available 7 days a week to consult with individuals accused of such offenses. The best approach to defeating criminal threats accusations is early criminal defense attorney intervention, contact Mr. Rogers immediately.

Criminal Threats Defined by Statute

In California, criminal threats is formally defined by statute under Penal Code 422(a), “Any person who willfully threatens to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person, with the specific intent that the statement, made verbally, in writing, or by means of electronic communication device, is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent of actually carrying it out, which, on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat, and thereby causes that person reasonably to be in sustained fear for his or her own safety or for his or her immediate family’s safety.”

Elements to Criminal Threats

In order for someone to be guilty of criminal threats under PC 422, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. Defendant threatened to kill or cause great bodily injury to another
  2. Defendant made the threat orally, or in writing, or via electronically device
  3. Defendant intended the statement be taken as a threat
  4. The threat was clear, unequivocal, unconditional, and specific
  5. The threat caused the person to sustain actual fear for safety or safety of immediate family
  6. The threat caused reasonable fear to the recipient

An electronic device for the purposes of this statute can be a mobile device, computer, pager, video or audio recording, or any form of electronic information transmitting device. Additionally, pursuant to PC 422(b), “immediate family” includes spouse, parents, children, and any other person related by consanguinity or affinity with the second degree, and even any person who resides in the household regularly. Furthermore, “great bodily harm” can be defined as causing more than minor or moderate harm – i.e., stabbing someone, shooting someone, breaking fingers / arms, etc.

What are the Legal Defenses to Criminal Threats?

  1. Falsely Accused: Unfortunately, there are numerous reasons one is falsely accused of threatening someone. Some instances include fighting with a spouse or former partner, to win child custody battles, your neighbor and you just don’t get along, and the list goes on. Additionally, the accuser could be overreacting to the situation or exaggerating the circumstances in an effort to have charges filed against you.
  2. You did not convey a threat: One must actually convey and threat to another person. If the defendant merely said, “You’re an idiot,” that statement does not qualify as a threat and therefore one cannot be guilty of making a criminal threat.
  3. The “threat” was not unequivocal but ambiguous. For instance, if you said, “I’m going to harm you,” that statement will not qualify as a criminal threat since the word “harm” could be used in difference contexts – i.e., harm someone’s reputation. The statute makes it mandatory that one clearly convey a “threat” of creating substantial bodily harm or death. Simply saying, “Come outside, I’ve got something for you!” again does not qualify as clear threat since “something for you” could virtually be anything.
  4. The “threat” was conditioned upon another event happening. Conditional threats do not suffice for someone to be found guilty under this statute. For instance, shouting, “I’m going to kill you if you take one step closer” will not qualify as a direct threat since it was condition upon the recipient moving forward. The rationale is that, why would the recipient move forward, or take another step, knowing that the defendant would harm them?
  5. You did not intend the statement be taken as a threat. Simply joking with another person will not suffice for someone to be found guilty under this charge since it’s was considered a “joke” and you did not intend the statement be taken as a threat.
  6. You did not make a threat in writing, orally, or via electronic device. Assertive conduct does not suffice. For instance, moving your finger across your neck implying that you would cut someone else’s throat.
  7. The accuser was placed in fear. If the accuser was not placed in fear after you conveyed a threat, then you cannot be guilty under this charge.

Act Immediately to Preserve or Collect Exculpatory Evidence

Usually this crime involves only a single witness making an accusation with no other individual or physical evidence to corroborate. It’s important to gather all evidence available to negate or impeach the accuser. Below are just a few examples:

  1. Any audio or video recording of the incident. This includes video surveillance from businesses or neighbors that may have captured the incident on video footage.
  2. Names or whereabouts of potential witnesses to the alleged threat so an investigator or your attorney can contact them to get a statement from them. Perhaps they recorded the incident on their mobile device.
  3. Any information relating to the accuser. In other words, their criminal record; have they lied in court before? Do they have mental deficiencies/illness that perhaps causes them to exaggerate circumstances? Any prior incidences the defendant had with the accuser. What would their friends say about the accuser – “she’s a liar”?
  4. Phone records, text message, emails, facebook messages, photographs, etc. This is imperative because it help to establish that you would never convey a threat to them based on your long relationship with this person. Or perhaps the accuser has sent you text messages since the event claiming they lied to police. All this pertinent to attack the credibility of the accuser. After all, most of time, a single statement made by the accuser is all the evidence in the case.

Avoid Criminal Threats Charges from being filed against you

Once a police report is written, it immediately gets forwarded to the district attorney’s office for review to determine whether formal criminal charges should be filed against you. Almost always, the police report contains damaging evidence against you favoring your guilt. Therefore, the prosecution is not aware of all the evidence in the case. It’s imperative that you retain a criminal defense attorney immediately to catch the prosecutor prior to formal criminal filing. Usually your attorney can, at the earliest possible stage, submit a pre-filing package to the prosecutor explaining your side of the story, your evidence of what happened, character letters, etc. in an effort avoid criminal charges filed against you.

What is the Punishment for Criminal Threats?

Criminal threats is a “wobbler” offense which means the prosecutor has discretion to file criminal threats charges as a felony or as a misdemeanor. As explained above, if charged as a felony, the prosecutor will allege this case to be a “strike” carrying harsh consequences.

The maximum punishment if convicted under this statute is one year in the county jail. The court generally adds probation, anger management, and counseling classes. Not to mention, a protective order is imposed requiring you to stay away from the “victim.”

If convicted of criminal threats as a felony, one faces a sentencing range of 16 months, 2, or 3 years in California state prison. If you used a weapon to carry out the threat, or you have a criminal history, additional state prison years may be added.


Dan got into an altercation with his neighbor. Dan got so upset he yelled, “Just you wait, I’m going to get you for this! When you’re sleeping!” In this case, Dan would not be guilty of making criminal threats because his words of “get you for this” could virtually mean anything other than a direct threat to commit great bodily injury or death against his neighbor.

Dan got home and found his wife sleeping with another man. Dan went into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and went back into the bedroom. He grabbed his wife, pressed the knife against her neck and said, “I’m going to kill you!” In this instance, Dan would arguably be guilty of making a criminal threat because his direct statement of taking his wife’s life, combined with his observation of seeing his wife with another man, along with his act of pressing the knife against her throat evidences his intent to carry out harm or death.

Free Los Angeles Criminal Threats Lawyer Consultation

If you have been accused, arrested, charged, or are under investigation, do not give a statement or talk with a detective, instead, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense and Criminal Threats Attorney John Rogers at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers immediately. Mr. Rogers is located at 1801 Century Park East, 24th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Call 877-888-9820 now for a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.