It is believed that most violent attacks, intentional mass poisonings, mass shootings, and terroristic attacks begin with a threat. This is why the California Penal Code takes intentional threats seriously as a prevention measure for serious crimes. However, not all threats amount to a criminal threat, and the law clearly states the conditions that must be met before a conviction.

You may have uttered something in the heat of the moment and are now facing serious charges that could affect your life negatively. A criminal justice attorney in Southern California can defend you and save you from criminal penalties.

What Are the Characteristics of a Criminal Threat?

You can be convicted, jailed, and fined if your actions constituted a criminal threat. An Orange County criminal threat attorney can offer legal advice when you are uncertain about your case’s possibilities.

Here is what a criminal threat looks like:

  • The threat was to kill or harm another person.
  • The threat is unequivocal and specific.
  • It was communicated electronically, in writing, or verbally.
  • The threat instilled reasonable fear in the victim – they worried about their safety and that of their loved ones.

Remember that the judge can possibly convict you even if you had no intention of actually executing the threat – or could not do what you said. Some examples of criminal threats are:

  • Calling your ex-partner to tell him that you will burn down his house.
  • Texting the employer that fired you to ask them to watch her back and that of her other employees.
  • Telling someone that you will shoot them while holding a gun.

How Is Fear Defined in a Criminal Threat Case?

Fear is a critical component in a criminal threat. Understanding what it actually means legally is important for your case. Here is how the law defines fear:

Actual Fear

If someone goes into hiding or invests in a new security system, they were likely concerned about their security and that of their family. But if they responded with something like “yeah, whatever” after laughing about the threat, they probably didn’t take it seriously. Remember that it doesn’t matter whether you communicated directly or through a third party.


Some threats can be considered unreasonable and cannot lead to a criminal threat conviction. For example, if you told another person that you will drop a bomb over their apartment after hijacking an F-15 – their fear may not be reasonable. But if you threaten to shoot someone and you reach for your pocket for a non-existent gun, their fear could be valid.

Sustained Fear

A specific time frame on how long the fear should last for it to warrant the accused’s conviction – is yet to be established. How the victim behaves after the supposed threat determines if the fear was sustained or not. For instance, if they call the police immediately, or if they hesitate until way later.

How Does the Law in California Define Threats?

An experienced Orange County criminal threat lawyer can confidently tell you that empty and conditional threats can never be used to convict someone. Threats of violence against individuals are only punishable if they were specific, immediate, unconditional, and unequivocal.

Here are forms of fears that the court can dismiss depending on the circumstances: 

Conditional Threats

These forms of threats have conditions that are not certain, and thus, not actionable. For instance, a bitter ex-lover can threaten to kidnap their victim’s child if they marry someone else. The recipient of the threat can’t possibly fear for the safety of kids yet to be born.

Empty Threats

Empty threats are ambiguous in most instances and can be interpreted differently by different people. For example, a student that shares a poem referencing school shootings with their peers may not be guilty of criminal threat.

What Are the Possible Penalties for a Criminal Threat in California?

A criminal threat can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor in California, depending on the nature of the incident and your criminal history. Notably, if you make criminal threats against multiple people or on more than one occasion, each threat could carry its own penalty. But the sentencing is as follows:

  • Misdemeanor. The convict may part with up to $1,000 in fine and stay in a county jail for up to a year.
  • Felony. You may have to stay in the State prison for up to three years and pay a fine as high as $10,000. The sentence would increase by a year if you used a deadly or dangerous weapon. 

It is worth noting that this crime falls under the three-strikes law – meaning you have to serve at least 85% of the sentence to achieve release on parole eligibility. And if you have been convicted for another strike crime before, the judge can double the required punishment. You cannot get anything less than 25 years in jail if you are a “third striker.”  

What Are the Possible Defenses Against a Criminal Threat Charge?

A criminal threat charge doesn’t always end up in a conviction, especially when you hire a skilled Orange County criminal threat attorney. An experienced South California criminal defense lawyer can earn your case dismissal, acquittal, or reduced charges. Some of the arguments include:

  • The accuser is making false allegations because there was no threat at all
  • The accused used a threatening gesture – thus, it doesn’t meet the threshold of a verbal, written, or electronic threat
  • The accuser’s fear was momentary or fleeting 
  • The threat didn’t instill fear in the victim
  • The threat couldn’t have made the accuser reasonably fear for their safety 
  • The threat was ambiguous and vague – not specific 

Qualified Legal Assistance in Southern California

Every accused person needs a legal expert to explain their side of the story and save them from harsh penalties. Avoid explaining yourself because your words can be twisted and used against you in court.

Criminal defense involves examining the prosecutor’s evidence to find out if it can be challenged effectively. If any criminal threat element is missing, a skilled criminal threat attorney in Orange County can point it out and prove your innocence. Talk to us and let us go through your legal options.