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California Criminal Threats Law - Penal Code 422 PC

The Crime Of Criminal Threats Under Penal Code 422 PC

California Penal Code Section 422 makes it a crime to communicate a threat to someone that can result in great bodily injury or death. This statue is commonly called “criminal threats.”

Criminal threats law under California Penal Code 422 PC
Criminal threats law under California Penal Code 422 PC

PC 422 prohibits threatening to harm or kill someone when the threat puts the victim in reasonable sustained fear for their safety or that of their loved ones. 

It should be noted the threat must involve inflicting a great bodily injury (GBI) or death to the victim, or their immediate family members.

Penal Code 422 PC offenses are commonly directed connected to California domestic violence crimes.

PC 422 describes the crime of criminal threats:

  • Any person who willfully makes a threat to commit a crime that can result in great bodily injury or death to another person, with the specific intent their statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent to actually carrying it out, which was immediate and specific to the person threatened and immediate prospect of execution of the threat, causing the victim to be in fear of their safety or immediate family.

The threat under PC 422 can be verbal, written, or through any form of electronic communication, such as text messages or email.  

However, you can't be guilty of criminal threats unless:

  • The threats actually placed the victim in reasonable fear
  • It can be proven they were actually fearful, and the fear was sustained

Penal Code 422 PC is considered a serious crime that can expose a convicted defendant to the provisions of the California's three-strikes law and result in a significant state prison sentence.

What Has to Be Proven for a PC 422 Criminal Threats Conviction?

In order for the prosecutor to convict you of violating Penal Code 422 PC, they must be able to prove several specific factors known as the "elements of the crime."

Only a certain subset of threatening conduct forms the basis of a PC 422 prosecution (CALCRIM 1300). This means it must be shown that you:

  • Willfully threatened to injure or kill another person
  • The threat was verbal, written, or through electronic communication
  • The threat was communicated to be received as an actual threat
  • The threat was so unconditional and specific under the circumstances, it conveyed an immediate possibility of being executed
  • The threat actually placed the victim in fear for their safety, or their immediate family, and was a sustained fear

Communicated explicitly - the threat has to be communicated explicitly. For instance, making only a gesture with your hands, such as holding up fists, is not enough to support a prosecution under PC 422.

PC 422 criminal threats includes threats made though electronic communication
PC 422 criminal threats includes threats made though electronic communication

However, if you hold up your fist and start making threats, such as “I'm going knock you out,” then you could be prosecuted for violating Penal Code 422 PC.

Great bodily injury - the threat has to involve a great bodily injury or death to the victim.

For instance, if you threaten a victim by saying “I'm coming over to your house to kill you,” this would obviously qualify for being charged with PC 422.

Place victim in fear of their safety - The threat has to place victim in fear, but how can it be proven a reasonable person was placed in fear?

The PC 422 criminal threats statute depends on a subjective reaction by the victim. Also, the law requires that the victim be placed in “sustained,” fear.

In many situations involving criminal threats, the victim was placed in immediate fear, but it dissipates fairly quickly.   

No intent to carry out threat – a Penal Code 422 PC charge can still be prosecuted even if there is no evidence you had actual intent to carry out the threat.

What are the Penalties for a Criminal Threats Conviction?

California Penal Code Section 422 is a “wobbler,” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony offense. 

If you are convicted of misdemeanor criminal threats, the penalties include:

  • Up to one a year in the county jail
  • A fine up to $1,000

If you are convicted of a felony PC 422 criminal threats, the penalties include:

  • 16 months, two years, or three years in the California state prison
  • A fine up to $10,000

If you used a deadly or dangerous weapon to communicate the criminal threat, then the judge can impose an additional and consecutive term of imprisonment of one year in state prison.

California's Three Strikes Law

There is a recurring issue which many defendants are unaware when they are convicted of a felony criminal threats offense.

A PC 422 felony conviction is a “strike” under California's three-strikes law. 

This means the provisions of the three-strikes law can significantly increase prison sentences for second and subsequent convictions when a defendant has a strike on their record. 

A third-strike defendant will be facing potential life sentence in California state prison.

What are the Related California Offenses for Penal Code 422?

How Can I Fight PC 422 Criminal Threats Charges?

There are several common defenses our Los Angeles criminal lawyers can argue on your behalf if you were charged with criminal threats under Penal Code 422.

The defenses will focus on attacking the elements of the charge and establishing reasonable doubt. For example:

Defenses for criminal threats charges under Penal Code 422 PC
Defenses for criminal threats charges under California Penal Code 422 PC

The victim was not placed in fear - the subjective beliefs of the victim are important under a PC 422 prosecution. We can make an argument the victim was not actually placed in fear, or that any fear was not sustained.

The threat didn't involve great bodily injury or death – we might be able to argue that even though a threat was made, it didn't rise to the level of involving a great bodily injury or death. 

False allegation –  we might be able to make an argument that you were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested. Perhaps the alleged victim was motivated by anger or jealously and was attempting to evade their own involvement in a crime.

If you or a family member has been charged with the serious California criminal offense of criminal threats under Penal Code Section 422, contact our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers for an initial consultation.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a top-rated criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067. Our main office is next to the Van Nuys Courthouse at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401.

Contact our office for a consultation at (877) 781-1570.

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