Criminal Threats

Criminal Threats (Penal Code section 422)

Here's the scenario: A big burly man gets angry at his friend and sends him an email telling his friend: "I am going to come to your house tonight and beat you up." The words were written in anger and the man writing them actually had no intention of carrying out the threat. Whether his threat was empty or not, he may have committed the crime of "criminal threat" under California law. Let's say instead, the angry person is a 95 pound woman without any particular physical strength who threatens: "I am going to beat up you up some day." Even if the woman has every intention of carrying out the act, she did not commit a criminal threat. What is the difference? Let an Orange County criminal threat lawyer explain.

In the first scenario, the person making the threat had the capacity to carry it out and his threat was immediate and specific. In the second scenario, neither condition is true. The crime of a criminal threat requires an unambiguous and immediate threat, made with the specific intent to threaten someone (or his or her immediate family) with great bodily injury or death. The threat can be made verbally, in writing, or via electronic communication and must cause the person threatened to be in reasonable fear for his or her own safety (or the safety of his or her immediate family). It does not matter if the person making the threat had the intent to actually carry out the threat; it is only the nature of the threat that makes the act criminal under this statute.

Often people make threats in anger that they don't really intend to carry out and without realizing that their intention does not matter under the law. When charged with this crime, it is important to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. The charge is serious as it is a potential strike under the "Three Strikes" law exposing the offender to greater punishment. There are highly effective defenses against this charge but identifying these defenses requires an understanding of the very specific elements of this crime.

I am an experienced criminal threat attorney in Orange County with proven results and I promise to vigorously defend your rights to the full extent of the law. I have successfully defended hundreds of clients, including those charged with criminal threats. Contact me at any time to set up a confidential consultation with an Orange County criminal threat attorney without charge. I will work with you and your family to provide a fee structure that best suits your circumstances.


This crime is "wobbler" meaning that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If charged and sentenced as a misdemeanor, the punishment is a maximum of one year in county jail and/or probation, fines, and potential restitution. If charged as a felony, the punishment is imprisonment for 16 months, two, or three years. If charged as a felony, it is a "strike" under the "Three Strikes" law. If a deadly weapon was used in commission of the threat, for example waiving a gun and making a threat, the statute provides for an extra year imprisonment. A criminal threat lawyer in Orange County can help you try to avoid or mitigate these penalties.