Crimes Involving Threats

Many different kinds of crimes in California involve making threats to another, even if the threat is never actually carried out. Many of these threats are made over social media or online networking platforms. Because of the impulsive nature of these crimes, juveniles are often the targeted for criminal investigation, although adults are usually charged with the most serious crimes.

In many of these cases, important defenses exist related to protections under the First Amendment of the United States for free speech. Article I, section 2, subdivision (a) of the California Constitution provides that: “Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or press.”

Of course, the right to free speech is not absolute. The courts have allowed prosecutions for non-threat crimes involving only spoken words, such as for bribery or forgery. But because of the right to free speech, the statutes criminalizing threats must be narrowly directed against only those threats that truly pose a danger to society. Your criminal defense attorney must aggressively fight these charges because the penalties for threats are extremely serious.


Attorney for Criminal Threats in Ventura, CA

If you were charged with making a threat in way that constitutes a crime, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Ventura, CA, at Jay Leiderman Law. These cases are difficult because the prosecutor is not necessarily required to prove that the person making the threat had the intent or the ability to carry it out or that the person actually took any action.

Many of the people charged with this crime are juveniles, young people, or individuals with mental health issues. In other cases, a person has a temporary lapse in judgment not consistent with their normal behavior. Nevertheless, the person accused might still face serious felony or misdemeanor charges.

Jay Leiderman can help you understand the charges pending against you, the possible penalties for that offense, and the best way to aggressively fight the charges. At Jay Leiderman Law, we can also help you understand how the right to free speech might provide a defense to the charges. Call (805) 654-0200 today for a free, confidential consultation.


Overview of Criminal Threat Law in California


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How Free Speech Impacts Criminal Threats

The law is well settled that the First Amendment permits states to ban a “true threat.” (Watts v. United States (1969) 394 U.S. 705, 708.) The courts have reasoned that “true threats” are “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.” (Virginia v. Black (2003) 538 U.S. 343, 359, citing Watts v. United States, supra, 394 U.S. at 708.)

In most cases, the law requires a specific intent on the part of the person communicating the threat, rather than saying something that constitutes only negligence or even recklessness. Defenses exist when the alleged threat on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is NOT so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat.


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Types of Threats Prosecuted in California

California law provides for several different types of threats that can be prosecuted including:

  • Threatening Death or Great Bodily Injury – Pen. Code, § 422;
  • Threatening a School Employee or Official – Pen. Code, § 71, subd, (a);
  • Threatening Injury with the Intent to Annoy – Pen. Code, § 653m, subd. (a)
  • Threatening to Refrain from Exercising Religion – Pen. Code, § 11412
  • Threatening to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction – Pen. Code, § 11418.5, subd. (a)

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Threatening Death or Great Bodily Injury – § 422

Under Pen. Code, §422, it is a crime to willfully threaten to commit a crime which will result in death or great bodily injury to another person. The threat must be done with the intention with the intention that the statement is to be taken as a threat, even if there is no intent to actually carrying it out. The threat must be so unequivocal, unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey that the threatened action might immediately occur. Finally, the threat must cause the person threatened to be in reasonable fear of their own safety or the safety of their immediate family. Pen. Code §422 applies to all criminal threats which will result in death or great bodily injury regardless of location or the exact type of violence that is threatened.

Pen. Code, § 422 can be punishable as either a misdemeanor or a felony. When a criminal threats conviction is punished as a felony, it also becomes a serious felony for purposes of enhanced punishment under the Three Strikes Law (Pen. Code, 1192.7. subd. (c)(38)) and the five-year prison enhancement for prior serious felony convictions (Pen. Code, § 667). A conviction also triggers credits limitations. (Pen. Code, § 1170.12.)


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Threatening a School Employee or Official – §71(a)

Under Pen. Code, § 71, subd. (a) makes it a crime to threaten any officer or employee of any public or private educational institution with injury where the intent in making the threat was to persuade the employee from doing or not doing something in the performance of their duties. It does not matter whether the employee actually responds as long as the employee reasonable believes that the threat could be carried out. Pen. Code, § 71(a) is prosecuted can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor on a first offense and a felony on a second or subsequent offense.


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Treating Injury with the Intent to Annoy – §653m

Under Pen. Code, § 653m, it is a misdemeanor to threaten to inflict injury on a person or that person’s family using a telephone or by means of another electronic device with the intent to annoy.


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Threatening to Refrain from Exercising Religion – §11412

Under Pen. Code, § 11412, it is a felony to:

  • cause or attempt to cause
  • another to refrain from exercising his or her religion or from engaging in a religious service
  • by means of a threat directly communicated to such a person to inflict an injury upon the person or property; and
  • it reasonably appears to the recipient that such a threat could be carried out.

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Threatening to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction – §11418.5

Under Pen. Code, § 11418.5, subd. (a), California law makes it a crime to:

  • knowingly threaten to use a weapon of mass destruction;
  • with the specific intent that the statement, as defined, or a statement made by means of an electronic device;
  • is to be taken as a threat;
  • even if there is no intent of carrying it out;
  • which on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, is so unequivocal, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened, a gravity of purpose and an immediate prospect of execution; and
  • thereby causes the person reasonably to be in sustained fear for their personal safety or that of their family.

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Additional Resources

California Penal Code – Click here to read the actual laws banning criminal threats passed by the California legislature. You can browse by section or conduct a text search. An experienced attorney can help you understand these laws, but in the meantime, you can educate yourself on what the law actually says.


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Ventura County Criminal Threats Lawyer

Being charged with a criminal threat carries severe penalties including expensive fines and time behind bars. Often the mentally ill or young people are the ones charged with these crimes, and a conviction for making threats can follow you around for life just because of one impulsive mistake. Jay Leiderman Law can help put you in the best position to fight these charges successfully.

Jay Leiderman is a board-certified specialist in Criminal Law, a rare designation awarded to the less than 1% of California lawyers. He has handled a broad range of criminal cases, from petty theft to murder. Headquartered in Ventura, he works with clients in all ten Ventura County cities – Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, and Ventura proper. If you or a loved one is facing criminal threat charges, do not hesitate to call Jay Leiderman Law at (805) 654-0200 for a free consultation.


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