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criminal threats

Today’s discussion reviews Criminal Threats in Los Angeles, Penal Code section 422. This type of violation is misunderstood by many law enforcement agencies. Despite this confusion it is commonly used as a basis for arrest. Interestingly, recent high-profile criminal threat cases have been rejected for lack of evidence by the Los Angeles District Attorney. Importantly, early intervention by a defense attorney may help clarify an allegation of criminal threat as a moment of poor judgment and loss of composure, rather than a crime.

Criminal threat allegations are common in child custody/visitation, personal relationships, neighborhood conflicts, and in other situations where someone loses his or her temper or over-reacts with inflammatory comments. Most threats do not equate to violations of Penal Code section 422. However, police sometimes use this violation as a justification for arrests in marginal cases, when no other charge seems to fit, and the police want to stabilize a situation - i.e., the application of a Criminal Threat arrest, rather than a tenuous arrest for a Disturbing the Peace misdemeanor.

Bail for Criminal Threat offenses is $50,000 (or higher), and generally has the effect of quashing whatever threats may have existed at the time by locking up a person who has no realistic ability to “walk his talk” and carry out the threat; bail expenses for this violation can also deplete an accused person’s resources, and impair their ability to obtain private legal representation from a Los Angeles Criminal Threats Lawyer.

So, what are the legal requirements of a Penal Code section 422 Criminal Threat?

This violation requires:

1. Willful threat (verbal/written/or electronic communication) to commit a criminal act which would result in death or great bodily injury to another;

2. Specific intent that statement taken as threat (even if no actual intent for threat to be carried out);

3. On its face/under circumstances the threat is so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific to give impression to victim a gravity of purpose/immediacy of threat;

4. Victim reasonably in sustained fear for his or his family’s safety.

The complexity of this law provides some significant legal defenses to those accused. While each of the above four requirements exists, the difficulty of proof for the DA usually involves “timing.”

The legal issues of Los Angeles criminal threat cases aren’t usually related to whether a threat occurred, but rather the plausibility of the threat, and the prompt ability of the person to carry it out. If these two elements are lacking in substance, the violation is difficult to prove to a jury or judge.

For example, someone who makes a verbal threatening statement to another during the heat of an argument does not necessarily violate Penal Code section 422. While his statement may threaten great calamity to another, the surrounding circumstances dictate whether a violation exists:

Was the statement made on the phone to a victim 100 miles away? Was the threat made by an intoxicated person? Was the accused person quickly capable of carrying out the threat, or limited in his abilities to do so? Does the suspect have possession of specific weapons which were stated in the threat?

Another issue relates to the “sustained fear” component:

Did the victim go about his day after threat was made, or did he call police immediately? Did victim take immediate action to secure safety? Was statement made by a person capable of creating fear in victim?

Felony charges may be filed if all the elements of the crime exist, and the arrestee has previous criminal history/the threat resulted in actual injury/significant safety concern. However, these violations may not be suitable to prosecute at felony level, and the LA District Attorney’s evaluation may conclude that a case lacks sufficient evidence, or decide that the conduct does not meet their filing criteria, and refer the case to the local City Prosecutor’s Office for misdemeanor review.

Criminal Threat Cases in Los Angeles Courts

If a criminal threats case is filed in court, it is essential for the accused person to have attorney representation. These charges have significant consequences, some of which start at the 1st court appearance, where the judge will typically issue a restraining order against the accused person. If the charge is a felony, it is considered a Strike pursuant to California’s 3-Strikes Law. This can trigger deportation or other negative immigration consequence for Non-Citizens. It may also cause loss of present or future employment opportunity, as well as loss of California State Professional Licenses, to name a few direct and collateral issues.