Crossing the Line
We've all heard the saying “talk is cheap.” In reality, talking has the potential to be very expensive if it is threatening. If you are charged with criminal threats in California, you can face jail time, steep fines, probation, and a protection order, which will come with great costs. But what is a criminal threat? How does it differ from other threats? If you want to avoid a potentially costly criminal charge, read on to learn about this common California criminal offense.
Under California Penal Code 422, California's criminal threat statute, willfully threatening to commit a crime that would result in death or serious injury to another person is a criminal offense. But there are a few details about this law that are important to understand.
First, the threat must have made the person reasonably fearful for his or her safety or the safety of their family. You must make the threat with the intent that it will be taken as a threat by the other person. It doesn't matter whether you took your threat seriously or if you had any real intent to carry it out. All that matters is you made the threat, and the person you threatened was put in fear because of it.
Let's go over some examples of threatening language that would not be considered a criminal threat under California law.
If you were to make a threat in jest and knew the person you threatened wouldn't have taken it seriously given the context, you are not guilty of criminal threats. For example, if you were joking with a friend and said, “if you don't do me this favor, I'll hunt you down!” in a clearly joking manner, that would not be a criminal threat unless the person had reason to believe you were serious and feared for his or her safety.
If you threatened someone who believed you were serious and had good reason to fear for his or her safety, regardless of whether you intended to carry out the threat, you could be guilty of criminal threats.
Because of this small distinction, it's important to realize something as insignificant as the tone of your voice when you made the threat can turn it from a simple jest to a serious crime. In most cases of people making threats as jokes, the person subject to the threat does not call the authorities. But if someone does take your threat the wrong way and has reason to believe you had the intent and ability to carry out the threat, he or she could call the police, and you could be arrested.
Criminal threats can be done orally, in writing, or via electronic communication. So, a threatening text or social media post carries just as much significance as one done in writing or over the phone. This is important to understand because many people don't think making threats online is serious. Online criminal threats can be even more serious due to the hard evidence that can be produced. Making a threat orally to someone with no witnesses around might not leave any evidence other than the victim's account. In a court of law, these cases can be hard to prove. But if you make threats via email or social media, any attorney can subpoena the records custodian for the account and acquire hard and direct evidence of your threat. And this type of evidence can be difficult to suppress. In fact, many domestic violence cases start over online threats that can be easily traced back to the perpetrator. It's just too easy to be caught.
Making threats can be serious. Never make threats you think could be taken seriously, and avoid online threats at all costs. If you are facing criminal threat charges, consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney in your area. A good attorney can explain your charges and the penalties the court can impose. An attorney can also help you address each element the prosecution must prove and help you develop a strong defense.
Are you facing charges of criminal threats? If so, contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for expert counsel. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can advise you of your options and help you take steps to fight your charges, so that you can clear your name. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Christopher Martens will aggressively defend your rights and help you get the outcome you want. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.