Recently, Charlie Sheen was back in the news as he is under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department for making threats in Van Nuys, California against his former fiancée. In many domestic violence cases in California, prosecutors may allege a violation of Penal Code Section 422, often referred to as terrorist or criminal threats, which can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Whether you are facing such criminal charges in Palmdale, West Covina, Los Angeles, Pasadena or any other city in California, it is always best to consult with a criminal defense lawyer with knowledge of the law necessary to defend criminal threats charges.
1. Proving a Criminal or Terrorist Threats Case in California
In order to prove a defendant violated California Penal Code Section 422, the prosecution must show beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The accused made a willful threat to unlawfully kill or cause great bodily injury to another individual;
- The threat was made either orally, in writing or by electronic device;
- The accused intended their communication to be taken as a threat and directed at the alleged victim;
- The alleged threat was so immediate, unconditional, clear, and specific that it communicated to the alleged victim an immediate prospect and serious intention that the threat would be carried out; and
- The threat has to actually cause the alleged victim to be in sustained fear for their own safety or for the safety of their immediate family.
An experienced criminal lawyer will hold the prosecution to their burden of proof by making the Government prove each and every element necessary to obtain a conviction for a violation of Penal Code Section 422. Often times threats are conditional and not immediate which, in many cases, can lead to a reduction or dismissal of criminal charges.
2. Penalties for Criminal or Terrorist Threats in California
California Penal Code Section 422 is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony and, in addition, can be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor by a Court upon a motion by the defendant either during the pendency of the case or after conviction. If convicted of a misdemeanor, a defendant can face up to a year in county jail. If convicted as a felony, a defendant may face up to 4 years in a California State Prison. More importantly, a felony conviction of criminal threats in California is a serious felony and is considered a strike under California’s “Three Strikes” laws, meaning that any subsequent felony convictions can lead to a significant prison sentence.
Obviously everyone who hires a criminal defense lawyer would like charges to be dismissed or end in an acquittal. However, in the case of terrorists threats, it is important that a criminal lawyer at a minimum try and get the charges dropped to a misdemeanor if charges cannot be dismissed.