Criminal Threats

California Penal Code 422(a) P.C.

Criminal threats are words that are spoken or otherwise communicated with the intent to terrorize or frighten another person or group of people.

What is a Criminal Threat Charge?

Under California Penal Code 422(a) P.C., you can be charged with making a Criminal Threat if you allegedly threatened someone with great bodily injury (“GBI”) or death, even if you had no intention of carrying out the threat. To be convicted, you must have had the specific intent that the threat be taken seriously. The threat can be made verbally or in any written or electronic form (e-mails, handwritten notes, social media, text messages, etc.).

This is a “wobbler” offense, meaning that the District Attorney’s Office can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances and your criminal record.

What are Examples of Criminal Threats?

Examples of situations involving Criminal Threats include the following:

  • After a bitter custody hearing, you texted your ex-wife that she is “going to pay in blood” for taking your child;
  • You waved your gun at a group of fellow poker players and yelled, “This is what happens when you cheat me!”;
  • In a fit of rage, you threatened to “smoke” a prison guard immediately upon your release from custody.
  • After getting thrown out of a bar, you yelled at the bouncer, “You’d better sleep with one eye open tonight ‘cause I know where you live!”
  • After getting drunk, you went to your ex-girlfriend’s apartment and shouted at her and her new boyfriend, “I’m going to burn your love house to the ground tonight!”

What Does the Prosecutor Need to Prove for a Criminal Threat Charge?

To prove that you are guilty of making a Criminal Threat under California Penal Code 422(a) P.C., the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt each of the following elements (as required by the Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions CALCRIM 1300):

  • You willfully threatened to unlawfully kill or unlawfully cause great bodily injury to another;
  • You made the threat orally, in writing, or by electronic means;
  • You intended that your statement be understood as a threat;
  • The threat was clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific; and
  • The threat actually caused the victim to fear for his or own safety, or for the safety of his or her own immediate family.

What Happens If I am Convicted of a Criminal Threat Charge?

If you are convicted of making a Criminal Threat under California Penal Code 422(a) P.C., you face the following punishment (excluding any sentencing enhancements):

  • Sixteen months, two, or three years in prison (if you are convicted of a felony) (see also California Penal Code 18 P.C.). This is also a “strike” offense under California’s Three Strikes Law (California Penal Code 667 P.C.), which could result in additional prison time. A strike offense also requires you to serve at least 85% of your sentence, even with good behavior; or
  • One year in county jail (if you are convicted of a misdemeanor); and
  • A maximum fine of $1,000 (misdemeanor);
  • Probation of three or five years (felony, assuming prison is not part of the sentence, or misdemeanor);
  • Permanent ban (felony) or 10-year ban (misdemeanor) from possessing or owning a firearm;
  • Imposition of a protective order to stay away from the victim;
  • Possible anger management counseling (felony or misdemeanor);
  • Possible community service (felony or misdemeanor); and
  • Possible loss of ability to obtain or maintain a professional license, loss of employment or educational opportunities, or adverse immigration consequences (if applicable).

What are My Possible Defenses to a Criminal Threat Charge?

Criminal Threats cases can often be resolved during the investigation stage even before criminal charges are actually filed. Specifically, a highly experienced and skilled Los Angeles County Criminal Threats attorney like Ninaz Saffari might be able to convince the investigating detective to not refer the case to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution, or to convince the D.A.’s Office not to file charges if the case has already been referred. These are called Pre-Files, which Ms. Saffari has a great deal of experience in successfully negotiating. See her Case Results.

If you are charged with making Criminal Threats, Ms. Saffari will first conduct a thorough investigation, often with the help of her private investigator, to ascertain all relevant facts. Again, if possible, she will attempt to get the charges dismissed either before or shortly after they are filed. If she takes the case to trial, she will often use an expert witness who will argue that the alleged harm never occurred, did not occur to the degree claimed, occurred but was the result of an accident or unintentional conduct, or that the District Attorney has otherwise failed to provide enough evidence to meet the high threshold to prove you made Criminal Threats.

The following are the possible defenses to a Criminal Threat charge:

  • Self-defense of yourself or another person. You only conveyed the threat to prevent an attack against yourself or another person. Your fear of this attack must have been reasonable under the circumstances.
  • Vague/ambiguous or conditional threat. Your statement was not specific to rise to the level of a crime, or was dependent upon some future event occurring. In other words, your threat did not place the alleged victim in fear of imminent (immediate) harm.
  • No threat of great bodily injury or death. Your statement involved a threat of lesser harm.
  • Lack of sustained fear. The alleged victim only experienced momentary fear, not prolonged fear as required by California Penal Code 422(a) P.C. This is often the case if your threat was merely the result of a spontaneous emotional outburst.
  • Lack of specific intent. At the time of the incident, you did not have the specific intent that your statement be taken as a threat.
  • False accusations. The alleged victim or supposed eyewitness may have ulterior motives for lying to the police. Some of the most common motives include child custody disputes and romantic strife with current or former lovers.
  • Misidentification by the accuser or witness. For example, your statement was misunderstood or misinterpreted, or you were not the actual person who made the alleged threat. Eyewitness identification can be affected by many different factors, including bad lighting, witness stress, cross-racial identification, suggestions by the police, etc.
  • Constitutional defenses. These include lack of probable cause, police misconduct (coerced confession, planted evidence, falsified police report, etc.), Miranda violations (suppressing any statements you made to the police if your Miranda rights were violated), and suppression of evidence that was seized without reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or a valid warrant (in violation of the Fourth Amendment).
  • Insufficient evidence. The prosecutor failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of one or more charges.
  • The accuser and/or witnesses are not credible. In other words, for any host of reasons, the jury simple does not believe what the accuser and/or witnesses are claiming about your criminal culpability.

What Kind of Criminal Threat Charges Has Ninaz Saffari Defended?

Since 2005, Ninaz Saffari has successfully represented hundreds of clients against Criminal Threat charges, including both as felonies and misdemeanors.


If you or a loved one are currently being investigated or prosecuted for this crime, it is critical that you immediately hire a highly skilled, aggressive and experienced Los Angeles County Criminal Threats criminal defense attorney like Ninaz Saffari. Contact the Saffari Law Firm, P.C. now for a free telephone consultation. If Ms. Saffari believes she can help you, she will immediately schedule a free in-person meeting or, if you are in custody, she will visit you in jail (again, for free and with no obligation to hire her).


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