Criminal Threats

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Threatening, Stalking, or Terrorizing – Definitions and Defenses

Being charged with threatening, stalking, or terrorizing another individual has the potential to destroy your reputation and incur severe legal and monetary penalties. If you've been unfairly charged with any of these crimes, it's important to know what you're up against and the defenses your counsel might use for your benefit.

Being Charged with Threatening, Stalking, or Terrorizing

All three of these terms are classified under the same California Penal Code: 422. They are all types of criminal threats. As a result, the burdens of proof for the prosecution are quite similar. Let's go over them now:

  • They must have willfully threatened or unlawfully killed/caused great bodily harm to another person
  • The defendant must have made the threat either orally, in writing, or through an electronic communication
  • The defendant intended the statement to be understood as a threat – in other words, no miscommunication may have occurred
  • The threat must have been clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific about the threat. General threats do not qualify (i.e. "You'll be sorry”)
  • The threat then caused the victim to be in immediate and sustained fear for either their life or the lives of their family
  • The fear was reasonable under the circumstances

All of this means that threatening, stalking, or terrorizing can only occur under specific circumstances. General threats or angry arguments do not qualify and will likely result in the defendant being exonerated.

Penalties for These Charges

California laws carry heavy penalties for any 422 PC conviction. As a "wobbler" offense, it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Misdemeanor charges carry penalties like:

  • Up to one year in county jail
  • Up to $1000 in fines

The felony charge carries additional penalties like:

  • Up to three years in California state prison
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • Up to another one year in state prison if a deadly or dangerous weapon is used to communicate the threat

However, penalties can be piled atop one another if more than one threat is made, if the threat is made against multiple people, and so on.

Furthermore, threatening, stalking, or terrorizing charges fall under the California “Three Strikes” Laws. It's important to not be convicted of these, as three convictions can lead to a lifetime in prison.

Defenses for These Charges

Because the proof for these charges requires so much specific intent, there are multiple defense strategies your lawyer can use for your trial.

Threat Wasn't Immediate or Specific

Again, general threats or statements made in anger do not qualify as threats, stalking, or terrorizing under the letter of the law. Thus, using records or eyewitness accounts that explain what was said or communicated can be to your benefit.

No Fear Was Experienced

Even if a threat was explicit and specific, the victim has to have a reasonable fear under the circumstances for it to qualify as terrorizing or threatening. For instance, calling someone in the name while playing a videogame would not reasonably qualify as threatening.

The Fear Wasn't Sustained

If the threat occurred as depicted above but was not followed through, then the prosecution will have a hard time convicting the defendant of threatening, stalking, or terrorizing another individual.

Contact a California Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Contacting the law offices of Peter James Chambers is your best bet to avoid a conviction for any of these criminal charges and to return to your normal life ASAP. Contact us today and we will start working on your case with a free consultation.

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“One who sits in judgment of another should feel as though the sword is pointed at their own heart.”

— THE TALMUD —

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