Criminal Threats: In General
Criminal threats are exactly as they sound: threats of a criminal nature. Meaning, they are threats of hurting or harming someone. They are threats of causing great bodily injury, or even death. The threats can be verbal, written, or made by an electronic communication device. They can be made by one person or a group. They can be made to one person or a group. (For more on gang enhancements, see below) The crime of criminal threats is codified in Penal Code 422.
Criminal Threats: Elements
To prove a charge of criminal threats, a prosecutor must prove five key elements:
1) The defendant willfully made the threats of causing great bodily harm or death, or the threat to engage in a criminal activity that would lead to great bodily harm or death;
2) The defendant meant for the statement to be taken as a serious threat;
3) The threat was made in such a manner as to clearly show an intent to carry the threat out (regardless of whether it actually was carried out);
4) The threat causes the person to be in fear for their safety, or for the safety of their family; and
5) The threatened person’s fear is reasonable under the circumstances.
For more on the elements, refer to the following case: _ People v. Toledo_.
Criminal Threats: Punishment
PC 422 can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. This is called a “wobbler" offense. The specific circumstances often determine how it will be charged. If charged as a misdemeanor, the person convicted faces up to one (1) year in county jail. If charged as a felony, the person convicted faces a term of 16 months, 2 or 3 years, depending on the circumstances.
Criminal Threats: Enhancement
If a person uses a weapon during the commission of PC 422, they face a year consecutive enhancement under PC 12022. This means that the additional one year will be tacked on to the end of the underlying term.
If the person is found to be in a gang, and to have made the criminal threats in furtherance of gang activity, the person will serve an additional 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25-life, depending on the circumstances. This enhancement is under the gang enhancement, PC 186.22.