In California, threatening someone with physical harm or death could result in a charge of criminal threat. One recent example came from a man who was arrested, in part, for allegedly brandishing a gun while arguing with the mother of his child.
Criminal threats can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor, with extra prison time if they involve the presentation of a dangerous weapon. So what are some ways to defend yourself against this charge?
Criminal threats have to be clear and specifically targeted at someone. For example, telling someone that you hope they'll die or get beaten up wouldn't necessarily count as a threat, unless you're strongly suggesting that you'll be the one killing or physically harming them (or orchestrating such an attack against them).
It's crucial to have a defense attorney carefully review the alleged criminal threat to look for vagueness.
2) The other person didn't really feel fear
For the charge of a criminal threat to stick, there are certain "fear requirements" for the victim.
First off, they actually need to be in fear of your threat - and this can be a fear for themselves or for their close loved ones.
Secondly, this fear needs to be reasonable under the circumstances. For instance, if you threaten to drown someone in a giant vat of maple syrup, this is probably not a credible, fear-inspiring threat unless perhaps you're a maple syrup manufacturer with large syrup-filled equipment at your disposal.
And third, the fear can't be fleeting.
It isn't always easy to determine whether fear would be reasonable or not in a certain scenario, or whether there was genuine fear and how long it lasted. This is another reason it's important to have your attorney examine the situation.
3) The form of the threat
A criminal threat needs to be verbal in nature. This doesn't only mean spoken word (which, keep in mind, can include a video); it can also mean written word, including something transmitted on electronic device such as a text message. Making a menacing face at someone without saying anything wouldn't by itself constitute a threat.
4) False accusation
In some situations, people lie about the fact that they were threatened, or they completely misunderstand what you said or wrote; you may not have even made a threat. Your attorney can look for weaknesses in people's testimony and also determine whether prosecutors have enough proof to charge you with making a criminal threat.
Keep in mind that you can be arrested for making a criminal threat even if you didn't actually carry it out or even intend to do so. Be sure to contact us to review your case and have us fight on your behalf. Our office is located near the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta, California, so if you live in the Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Hemet, Corona and Riverside areas, we can help you.