Depending on the context of a conversation, there are times when threatening someone can be illegal. If you were speaking with a family member or friend and threatened to strangle them out of frustration, you may not be held accountable for issuing a criminal threat. However, when you threaten an acquaintance with physical harm with malicious intent, that can classify as a criminal threat.
You can suffer serious penalties when you issue a criminal threat to someone.
What Is Considered a Criminal Threat?
A criminal threat is a threat that one person makes to someone else, implying physical harm or death. When you make a criminal threat to someone else, that is an illegal offense that you can be charged with. For a threat to be considered a criminal threat, there must be more than just threats made out of anger.
Certain elements must be met for your threats to be classified as criminal threats.
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What Are Some Examples of a Criminal Threat?
Some examples of criminal threats include terroristic threats, criminal harassment, menacing threats, and threats of violence. Although most criminal threats are verbal, threats that are made in writing or through electronic forms of communication can also be classified as criminal threats. That includes criminal threats from social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat.
What if You Make an Empty Threat with No Intention of Carrying It Out?
Even if you make an empty threat and have no intention of carrying it out, you can still be charged with issuing a criminal threat. Once you have intentionally placed the person you have threatened in fear of being seriously hurt or killed, the crime has been committed. When your criminal threat meets particular elements and includes words that were used in a way to constitute a convincing threat, you can be charged with this particular crime.
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How Can I Be Convicted of Issuing a Criminal Threat?
To be convicted of issuing a criminal threat, the following elements must be met:
- The threat must be communicated. This element is met when a criminal threat is issued verbally or in writing. The threat must also be communicated specifically or unequivocally.
- The threat was issued with the intention and understanding that you were making a threat. It must be proven that you intended your statements to be a threat.
- The threat was so clear and specific that it communicated a serious message to the victim that the threat would be carried out. To prove this element, it must be established that the statement left no doubt in the victim’s minds that their safety was in jeopardy. The words used in the threat must be of an immediate threatening nature and relay an immediate intention of carrying out the threat.
- The fear experienced by the victim was reasonable given the circumstances. It must be proven that under the same circumstances, any reasonable person would have believed the threat would be carried out and would have taken it seriously.
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How Can Criminal Threats Be Charged?
Criminal threats can either be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony. While many people do not want any charges on their records, it is always best to be charged with a misdemeanor than with a felony.
A misdemeanor charge involves minor penalties. For example, a misdemeanor charge of a criminal threat involves penalties of up to one year in jail. A felony charge of a criminal threat involves penalties that range from two to three years in prison.
Can My Penalties Worsen if I Am Charged with a Misdemeanor Criminal Threat Charge?
Even when your criminal threat charge is a misdemeanor, certain elements can cause your charge to become a felony or lead to harsher punishments. Some of these factors include:
- Whether you tried to carry out a threat using a deadly weapon or lead the victim to believe the same
- Whether you repeatedly harassed or threatened the victim
- Whether you threatened the victim out of bias or prejudice
- Whether you issued a threat that caused the evacuation of a government building or place of assembly like a school.
What Are Some Defenses that I Can Use Against a Criminal Threat Offense?
You are not automatically guilty of a criminal threat offense just because you have been charged. You have the opportunity to use several defenses that can cause jurors to question whether you are guilty of issuing the criminal threat. Some of the common defenses used against criminal threat offenses include:
- The threat was not specific enough. California law requires criminal threats to be very specific and express that immediate harm will occur. If the alleged threat is too vague and does not specifically state when the threat will be carried out, it may not be classified as a criminal threat.
- The fear felt by the victim was not reasonable. The fear associated with the criminal threat must be a fear that a reasonable person would experience if they were in the same predicament. If the alleged threat involves behavior that is nearly impossible to perform, the alleged threat may not be considered a criminal threat.
- The threat was not made in writing or through verbal communication. If the alleged threat was made through a hand gesture, it would not be considered a criminal threat.
- The victim is making false allegations. Victims who have allegedly been threatened may not have been threatened but are trying to use the courts to seek vengeance. Some people may assume that charging someone with a criminal threat is easy because there is little physical evidence to convict someone of the charge.
How Can a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Help Me?
A Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer can provide the legal assistance you need to avoid being charged with a criminal threat. A skilled lawyer can ensure that you avoid facing any serious legal consequences.
Call a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer today, or complete a free case evaluation form to schedule a consultation. You need experienced criminal defense attorneys on your side when faced with charges of threatening someone.