Facing a criminal charge for issuing criminal threats can result in serious repercussions. For example, you risk facing incarceration penalties and payment of hefty fines at the judge's discretion. Additionally, your criminal record will include the offense, giving you a harder time securing a successful future.
In California, issuing criminal threats result in a serious accusation. Therefore, you want to defend yourself in the best way during trial. Working with a criminal defense attorney is advisable to help present yourself in court well. When selecting a suitable lawyer, be sure to verify their qualifications and ability to take up your matter.
At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, you will find some of the best criminal defense attorneys. Our expertise is strengthened by the years of experience spent in handling various criminal cases. Thus, you can expect excellent criminal defense services backed by thorough research. Our team is also willing to answer any questions you have by providing a well-detailed explanation. We will remain open when explaining the chances of success in your case. This way, you are more confident in the type of service you receive.
The Nature of Criminal Threats
Under section 422 of the Penal Code, issuing criminal threats is prohibited and attracts misdemeanor or felony charges. The elements of crime vary from one suspect to another, meaning that the prosecutor will have to assess each case separately. Criminal threats are associated with issuing the victim serious threats like killing them or causing grievous bodily harm.
Since your statements will invoke reasonable fear in the recipient, the law provides for criminal prosecution. This is based on the disruption of peace and a sense of security, primarily in the domestic setting.
Thus, the complainant lodges an official report with the law enforcement officers, prompting them to undertake additional investigations before arresting you. Afterward, your case is presented to the presiding prosecutor for further analysis. The prosecutor’s involvement is crucial as they decide whether to proceed with the trial.
Factors Leading to Prosecution for the Offense
Under the criminal procedure provisions, the burden of proof in criminal cases rests on the prosecutor. As a result, the prosecution team analyzes allegations and evidence collected by the investigation officers to determine the case viability.
You should note that the burden of proof also requires a strict satisfaction of all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Hence, the prosecutor is responsible for ensuring that your case is arguable before requesting a pre-trial and trial hearing.
The team makes these verifications using a specific checklist for criminal threat cases. You should therefore have more information on the prerequisites for your case prosecution. They include:
You Issued the Threats Without the Influence of Drugs or Mental Illness
Firstly, the prosecutor must verify that you issued threats to the victim with a clear mind. Ascertaining this factor will be helpful for the subsequent trial, as the prosecutor will have to prove you acted willfully and knowingly.
Due to this, the investigation officers will collect sufficient information from the complainant and any other witnesses. Upon receiving these details, the prosecution team can then build on their case and even develop additional arguments against you. For example, if no medical records are available to show you have a mental illness, the prosecution case is more substantiated.
The Threats Fell Within Domestic Violence or Hate Crime Categories
Secondly, the prosecutor will only proceed with your case if they can establish an element of domestic violence or hate speech. This is to prevent people from making frivolous and unrelated claims, resulting in case backlogs.
Therefore, the prosecutor may request specific information to pin your offense in the correct circumstances. For example, determining if you had a close relationship with the victim is crucial in classifying your crime within the domestic violence category.
The Claimant Can Provide Proof of the Threats
Proceeding with a criminal trial without proof of the alleged threats will be futile for the prosecutor. Due to this, they will require the claimant to provide credible proof that shows the types of threats you issued. Moreover, the sources of proof must be verified and admissible as evidence in court.
The rules on evidence admissibility will apply to rule out claims made from hearsay and other unacceptable sources. By determining the quality of evidence presented, the prosecutor can decide whether a trial is suitable. If the proof does not demonstrate the issuance of criminal threats, you may be released on a warning.
You Could Have Easily Caused Injury to the Victim When Making the Threats
The claimant’s allegations must also be realistic, meaning that they must have experienced a real danger. For example, the prosecutor may take up the case if you possess a firearm or any other weapon capable of inflicting serious harm or death. Circumstances involving a real imposition of danger for the victim also commonly include other law violations.
In the example above, if you possess your firearm in an unauthorized area when making the threats, you are likely to face joint charges. Consequently, you risk receiving harsher penalties for the offense despite having mitigation factors in your case.
You Have Made the Threats Multiple Times Within Two Years
A victim alleging threats made once may not benefit from a trial, as the defendant will prepare strong defenses. For example, the threat may have been made when the defendant was in a poor state of mind but has since reformed. Subsequently, the prosecutor should establish reasonable danger, often present where multiple criminal threats are issued.
On top of this, the claimant should provide proof of the criminal threats to avoid punishing the defendant wrongfully. If the prosecutor is satisfied with the claimant’s information, a case preparation follows pending the judge’s clearance for trial.
Elements of Crime
Issuing criminal threats involves several elements of the crime for the prosecutor to prove. As discussed, they will have to provide evidence for each factor and prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A failure to satisfy the standard of proof may result in your acquittal or sentence reduction.
Thus, the prosecution team takes case preparations seriously and will engage investigation officers and other third parties in retrieving evidence. Once the prosecutor is confident in their case preparation, the trial will begin with case presentations on each element.
As an accused person, you want to be ready for trial by anticipating the prosecutor’s strategy. Therefore, you should understand the common approaches used in presenting elements of the crime. With your attorney’s help, you can then prepare defenses to counter the prosecutor’s claims. The elements of crime in criminal threat offenses are:
You Knowingly Issued Threats to Kill or Injury Another Party
The main element of the crime to establish when introducing the case is that you knowingly and wilfully issued deadly threats to the victim. When proving the element, the prosecutor will focus on demonstrating several aspects.
Firstly, you must have acted wilfully, meaning that nobody forced you to make criminal threats. A willful act is often detected by the defendant’s actions leading to committing the crime. Hence, the prosecutor requires reliable sources of evidence to prove a willful and intentional act.
The types of threats you issued are also a matter of determination. On the one hand, you could threaten to kill the recipient by stating the words plainly. Some offenders also make indirect killing threats by making statements like ‘your days to be alive are numbered.’
On the other hand, the threats may involve an intention to cause grievous bodily harm to the victim. The threats may involve direct use of force or crude means to inflict harm. Due to the many possible forms of threats, the prosecutor should conduct additional research on your case. With the retrieved information, they will have a chance to present a strong case against you.
Lastly, the prosecutor may institute a trial if you made criminal threats to an individual or a group. The basis for this is because your threats may cause reasonable fear even if the recipients are a large group. Therefore, the prosecutor’s interest is to uphold peace by ensuring you face legal repercussions for the threats regardless of the recipient.
The Statements Were Supposed to be Received as Threats
Your statements should have been interpreted as threats for a case to substantiate. Subsequently, the prosecutor carries the burden of proof to show that you intended to threaten the recipient with your statements.
The prosecutor should also consider whether your criminal threats fall within the required category when showing the crime element. By analyzing your statements, they will understand whether you intended to threaten the victim or whether the statements were carelessly made.
For example, making empty threats means that you aimed to scare the victim more than to threaten them. As a result, the prosecutor’s case may fail if they do not prove your ability to execute the threats in hypothetical circumstances.
Similarly, issuing conditional threats does not necessarily qualify you to face a criminal trial, particularly if you could not execute them. Typically, conditional threats induce coercion or undue pressure on the recipient, with no legitimate intention to execute them.
Nevertheless, the prosecutor may still convince the judge to find you guilty if the victim interpreted the conditional and empty threats as serious threats. This may lead them to conform to your demands out of fear for their safety. Therefore, you will risk facing penalties if the victim received your statements as actual threats.
You Made the Threats in Writing, Verbally or Electronically
The prosecutor should also demonstrate how you issued the threats and how the victim received them. The Penal Code provides for three main channels to convey criminal threats. Your case will only require you to issue the threats using one of the mediums discussed below for the judge to find you guilty.
Some cases involve channeling the threats electronically. The medium may include using your phone, computer, fax machine, or any other electronic appliance capable of sending and receiving messages.
Making threats electronically may result in a difficult court trial for you, as the data is often available for retrieval despite having deleted it on your end. The prosecutor may work with an experienced software professional to recover the messages or posts amounting to threats as evidence. Consequently, evidence supporting the prosecutor's case against you will be overwhelming.
Alternatively, you may be guilty of issuing verbal threats, meaning you made them by word of mouth. This is common in public spaces after another party agitates you. Although you may dispute having made the verbal statements, the prosecutor is likely to find witnesses. They will testify against you and reinforce his accusations, making you more likely to face penalties.
Criminal threats are also commonly issued in writing. Unlike electronic writing, this category involves handwritten threats delivered to the victim in person or through a third party. You should note that using your handwriting may make you more likely to face conviction. The outcome will be from the opinion evidence provided by a handwriting expert, linking you to the threats.
The Recipient of Your Threats Reasonably Believed to Be in Danger
Further, the prosecutor should demonstrate that the recipient of your threats reasonably feared for their safety. Retrieving information to prove this element often requires the prosecutor to work closely with the victim. Therefore, you can expect the victim to appear as a primary witness, as they will narrate their experience.
Defining what reasonable fear entails may be difficult, as each person reacts to situations differently. Nonetheless, the prosecutor can focus on various aspects to drive their argument to the judge’s conviction.
For example, if the recipient reported the threats to the nearest police station soon after receiving them, it may be considered as reasonable fear. Similarly, if the victim secured a restraining order against you, the judge may deduce their state of mind.
Conversely, if the victim barely reacted to the threats, you may issue counter-arguments to the prosecutor’s case. The victim may not reasonably believe to be in danger as they do not undertake any precautionary measures.
However, your counterargument should be backed with sufficient proof to avoid facing discrediting questions. If your criminal defense lawyer successfully presents the argument, you may receive a sentence reduction or acquittal.
You Made Specific Threats, Making them Possible to Execute
Lastly, your threats must have been plausible and possible to execute. Issuing exaggerated threats that are virtually impossible to execute should not result in a criminal trial. The basis for this is that the victim may disregard them as impossible to complete, so they will not fear. Ultimately, the prosecutor's case will be unsubstantiated with no grounds for issuing penalties.
Hence, the prosecutor will prove that your threats were credible, inducing fear in the victim. For example, if you threatened to shoot the victim, the prosecutor may request a search warrant to determine if you own a firearm. The weapon’s presence in your home or car will support the prosecutor’s case, increasing the chances of facing a conviction.
Finally, you should remember that the prosecutor can file a case against you even if you made indirect threats to the victim. This may mean that you did not address them in your statements, but your threats had a target audience.
For example, if you and the recipient of threats were business owners in competition, an indirect threat may sound like ‘I will kill anyone who tries to uphold competition against me’. Although the statement does not mention the victim directly, they will have a valid cause for alarm. Thus, the prosecutor may proceed with the matter and vouch for your detention.
Defenses for Issuing Criminal Threats
Our criminal defense attorney is responsible for preparing and presenting defenses on your behalf. However, your input is welcome to pave the way for stronger arguments that counter the prosecutor’s case. Therefore, meeting with your criminal defense lawyer for regular consultations is important, as it helps plan your defense strategy.
A strong defense should capture the prosecutor’s argument point and either discredit it or cast reasonable doubt. The strategy is guided by the strict standard of proof imposed on the prosecutor, as each crime element must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
By attacking the premises presented by the prosecutor, the judge will notice loopholes and flawed arguments. In return, you stand a better chance of receiving a favorable case outcome. Nonetheless, your criminal defense lawyer should back each counter-argument with reliable evidentiary sources. Without proof, the prosecutor may discredit your presentation as an attempt to evade the charges.
While multiple defenses are available to your case, not all will be relevant for use. Some may contradict your point or give the prosecutor leeway into asking incriminating questions. Therefore, you want to select only the strongest defenses to avoid unnecessary risks during the trial. Nonetheless, learning of the applicable defenses is useful, as it may provide alternative strategies. The applicable defenses for criminal threat offenses are:
- The victim did not reasonably fear for their safety.
- You did not intend to make an immediate threat.
- You face false accusations.
- The statements were exaggerated and should not have amounted to threats.
- The alleged threats were unclear.
Penalties for Guilty Parties
Issuing criminal threats is a wobbler under the California Penal Code. Hence, the prosecutor may charge you with felony or misdemeanor offenses depending on various factors. Firstly, the prosecution team will assess the circumstances of your case. They do this to determine whether any aggravating or mitigating factors exist. Naturally, having aggravating factors may result in a felony charge.
Additionally, your criminal record plays a crucial role in determining the type of charge you face. Since repeat offenders are under more scrutiny, they are more susceptible to harsher legal implications. Subsequently, you may face a felony charge as a repeat offender, while first-time offenders may face a felony.
Sometimes, the prosecutor may also assess the gravity of threats issued. If you described the kind of harm you intend on the victim in graphic detail, you might face a felony charge. This is because you may have already formed an intention to execute your threats.
Based on the factors considered when entering a charge, guilty parties may receive felony or misdemeanor penalties. The following are the specific punishments issued for each charge:
When found guilty of a misdemeanor, you may face up to one year in county jail or pay a fine of up to $1000.
As a felony, offenders risk spending up to three years in state prison or pay a fine of up to $10,000.
You should also note that the judge holds the discretion to enhance or reduce the penalties based on the factors discussed above. As a result, you may have to complete the jail/prison sentence and fine payments in extreme cases.
On the other hand, the judge may reduce the jail or prison sentence or the fine amount as guided by the sentencing policy.
Contact a Chula Vista Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
When you face arrest and detention for criminal threats accusations, you may be at crossroads in choosing the best course of action. The accusations may come as a surprise for some, particularly if they were unaware of the victim's reaction to the threats. Additionally, you may be unaware of the legal avenues available to help you fight the charges.
Subsequently, seeking the services of a criminal defense attorney is advisable to help in case management. Their support goes a long way in helping you prepare defenses and present them in court for the judge's persuasion. Similarly, your criminal defense lawyer will support you by issuing guidelines beyond the trial conclusion.
If you choose Chula Vista Criminal Attorney to handle your criminal case, you can access highly qualified attorneys. Our lawyers’ input will play a pivotal role in increasing the chances of success in your case, thanks to their wealth of experience. Moreover, you have a chance to collaborate with them on picking the best defense strategies. If you or a loved one requires the services of a criminal defense attorney in Chula Vista, California, call us today at 619-877-6894.