There are many different types of domestic violence under California law. Making threats to a spouse or someone else with whom you've have had or are in a close relationship with is one of California's domestic violence crimes. For the purposes of California criminal law, domestic violence is abuse directed toward a spouse or former spouse, a cohabitant or former cohabitant, someone you are, or previously were, in a dating or engaged relationship with, the parent of your child, or someone else you are closely related to through blood or marriage. Abuse can include physical violence but may also include stalking, provoking, making threats, or otherwise causing the victim to develop a reasonable belief that you will harm them. As you can see, there are many different actions that can be considered domestic violence, and many of them involve no physical contact at all.
While you may not consider making threats a punishable crime, it is under California law. Making criminal threats is not specific to domestic violence scenarios. You could face criminal charges for making threats to anyone. Under California Penal Code 422, it is unlawful to willfully make a criminal threat to another person. To be considered a criminal threat, the threat can be made verbally, in writing, over the phone, or through some other means of electronic communication such as email. Threatening gestures do not fall under one of these categories and thus are not considered to be criminal threats. To be considered a criminal threat, the threat also must be specific and believable enough to cause the victim to fear for his or her or his or her immediate family's safety. Making criminal threats is a wobbler crime in California. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. If charged as a misdemeanor, you can face up to a year in a county jail. If charged as a felony, you could face up to four years in a state prison, longer if there are aggravating circumstances such as the use of a firearm.
To be charged with making criminal threats, it does not matter whether or not you had a serious intent to carry out the threat, as long as the victim developed a sustained fear that you would. The threat of harm must be unequivocal and must suggest death or physical injury. For example, emailing your ex-spouse that you plan to break into his or her house to hurt them would be considered an explicit and definite threat. It is important to reiterate here that in order to be charged with criminal threats, the threat cannot have been vague or unclear. Similarly, the victim must have had a reasonable fear of immediate harm. If your threat did not suggest you planned to cause them harm in the immediate future or was ambiguous to the extent that no specific injury is suggested, it is not a criminal threat. Also, the victim must have developed a sustained state of fear for his or her safety. If he or she is not in fear or, are only momentarily in fear of your actions, it is not a criminal threat.
Keep in mind that even if criminal charges are not pressed as a result of your threats, the victim may still get a restraining order against you. Restraining orders, also called protective orders, are very serious. If you have a restraining order against you and you violate the order, you could face a criminal charge, jail time, and potentially a fine. If you have violated a restraining order and are concerned about the consequences, you may wish to speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney about your case. Likewise, you should also consult with an attorney if you are facing criminal charges for making threats. It is important to speak with an attorney as soon as you can after finding out about such charges. A skilled attorney can evaluate your case and will know how to strategize a defense that could result in your sentencing being reduced or your charge dropped.
If you or a loved one has recently been arrested and are now being charged with a domestic violence crime, call experienced Visalia area criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we can listen to your story and help you prepare a strategic defense to ensure you the best possible outcome for your case. Attorney Martens has practiced criminal defense for over ten years and can fight for your rights in court. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.