California Penal Code §422(a) sets forth the crime of criminal threats. In a nutshell, this crime is committed when an individual has the intent to cause another person to be in actual fear that the individual will actually kill or injure them; in short, if you intend to make someone fear for their safety, and they reasonably fear for their safety as a result of your conduct, you can be found guilty of criminal threats in California.

California Penal Code §422(a) defines the crime of criminal threats as: (1) the act of any individual who intentionally threatens to commit a crime, which will cause another person to die, or suffer serious bodily injury; and (2) the individual who makes the threat has the specific intent that what they communicate be taken as a threat, even if they don’t intend to carry the threat out; (3)the threat, under the circumstances, is so clear that the person who is being threatened by the immediate possibility of being killed or severely injured is reasonable in being afraid for their own safety, or their family’s safety.

Thus, a criminal threat occurs the moment you intended to threaten someone with an act that would result in them being killed, or severely injured, and you succeed in putting that person in reasonable fear that their life or their well-being is at risk; under the circumstances it is objectively reasonable to believe that you can, and will, follow through with that threat. The crime is the threat itself, specifically the intent to make a threat that has the desired effect of placing the victim in reasonable fear. This is true even if you never intended to actually follow through with the threat, you only intended the victim to believe you meant it – you have still violated §422(a) of the California Penal Code.


  • David approached his ex-wife at night, on a dimly lit street, and growled that he was going to come in through the kitchen window one night, because it’s always open, and kill her, and her new boyfriend, in their sleep.
  • Monica sent her ex-boyfriend a picture of keys to his apartment, a butcher’s knife, and a picture of them with a cigarette burn through his eyes, along with a message saying “you dumped me; you won’t live to regret it. I have the keys to your apartment, and I know when you sleep.
  • Bill, who was recently fired, called his boss on a cell phone and told him “I’m outside your house, and I have nothing but time to give you what’s coming to you – watch your back.”
  • Mike calls Vicki every day, at 11:00 P.M. and tells her that when the time is right, he is going to cut her throat.

In order for to be found guilty of criminal threats, as set forth in California Penal Code §422(a), the Prosecution must prove four elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You intentionally made a threat to another person that you would seriously injure, or kill them;
  • The threat was communicated to the victim
  • The victim was absolutely certain that specifically intended to seriously injure, or kill them; and
  • It was reasonable for the victim to fear for their safety, or the safety of their family.

Since the Prosecution must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt, it is important to understand what the elements of criminal threats entail. The attorney’s at Orange County Criminal Attorney have experience with a broad range of clients who are face with a variety of criminal charges; including criminal threats. With their knowledge and experience, OCCA attorneys will find the most effective way to present your case and obtain a favorable verdict, or a minimal punishment if you are convicted. A detailed analysis of the elements the Prosecution must prove is set out below.

What Does It Mean To Intentionally Threaten To Injure Or Kill The Victim?

The first element the Prosecution will have to prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt is that the Defendant intended to make a threat, involving killing or severely injuring the victim. It does not matter if the Defendant did not intend to follow through on those threats, it only matters that he intended to make the threat of death or serious harm to the victim.

Verbally, Electronically Or Written Communicated The Threat To The Victim.

Pursuant to California Penal Code §422(a) the Prosecution must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the threat the Defendant intended to make, was actually conveyed to the victim. This means that the Prosecution must show that the Defendant communicated the threat either orally, in writing, or by some other electronic means. The Courts are clear that obscene, or threatening, gestures and expressions are insufficient to satisfy this element of criminal threats in California.

How Certain Must The Victim Be About The Defendant’s Specific Intent To Injure Or Kill Them

The third element the Prosecution will have to convince the jury of beyond a reasonable doubt is that the victim truly believed, and feared, that the Defendant was going to follow through on their threat. If this is not shown, the Defendant cannot be convicted of criminal threats. To prove that the victim took Defendant’s threat seriously, the Prosecution must submit evidence showing that the victim was actually in fear. An example of the evidence they could present would be the installation of new locks on doors and windows, hiring a bodyguard, or installed a motion sensor alarm in their house.

As long as the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim truly feared that the Defendant was going to follow through on their threats, then the Prosecution has satisfied this element of criminal threats.

Under well-established California law, the Defendant’s threat must have been unconditional or unequivocal. However, there are some situations where a conditional threat will be sufficient, for example “when you leave work, I will stab you in the back.” On the other hand, if a condition will be difficult to satisfy, it is unlikely that it will be a sufficient threat. For example, “I will drown your daughter if you don’t give me the password to your computer.” Where the victim does not have a daughter yet. Empty threats can also result in a conviction for criminal threats, provided the victim truly believed that the Defendant was going to carry the threat out.

What Are The Penalties If I Am Convicted Of Criminal Threats?

The crime of criminal threats is known as a “wobbler offense” in California. This means that the Prosecutor can bring the charge against you as either a felony, or as a misdemeanor. The Prosecutor will make that decision based on the facts of the case. The more heinous or severe the threat, the amount of fear the victim was suffering from, and many other factors will determine how the offense is charged against the Defendant.

If the Defendant is charged with misdemeanor criminal threats, the Defendant can face up to one (1) year of incarceration in county jail, a fine of up to six thousand ($6,000), misdemeanor probation, or a combination of all three possibilities.

If you are charged with felony criminal threats, the penalties become significantly more severe: the Defendant may face incarceration in the county jail ranging from two (2) to (4) years, based on the facts of the offense, felony probation, a fine of up to ten thousand ($10,000) dollars, or a combination of all three.

What Are The Legal Defenses My OCCA Attorney Can Raise If I Am Charged With Criminal Threats?

  • As mentioned in the section above, a §422(a) violation can be charged as either a misdemeanor, or as a felony. This is commonly referred to as a “wobbler offense.” Regardless of which form of the charge you are convicted of, the conviction will appear on your criminal background, which is accessible by people conducting background checks on you. Employers frequently conduct background searches on potential new-hires, and generally do not look favorably on prior convictions. If you are charged with criminal threats in California, contact an attorney from Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately. The OCCA attorney’s expertise will give you the best chance to receive a favorable verdict in your case. Some of the legal defenses your OCCA attorney can raise on your behalf are: The threat was vague or not immediate.
  • If the threat of death or serious bodily injury is not a threat of immediate harm, then the threat is insufficient to form the basis of a conviction for criminal threats. The victim hadn’t fear.

In some circumstances, the “victim” was never actually afraid that the Defendant who threatened to injure or murder them was going to follow through on their threats. Sometimes a victim believes that the Defendant simply is not the type of person who would, or could, follow through with a threat of that nature. As stated above, the victim must actually be afraid that the Defendant will follow through. The Prosecution will have to present evidence to that effect. Your OCCA attorney will cross-examine the victim to pull out all the information suggesting that they were never truly in fear for the life or well-being; they are simply trying to get even with you.

  • Wrongly accused

California law allows people to falsely accuse others very easily. Sometimes this is motivated out of anger, jealousy, revenge, or any number of other reasons. If you have been falsely accused contact Orange County Criminal Attorney immediately. At OCCA, our attorneys fight vigorously to stop the process before it starts, and before your name is dragged through the mud.