In California, it is considered a crime to willfully communicate a threat to another individual that would result in great bodily harm or death. This criminal offense is known as making “criminal threats.”
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's actions met all of the elements of criminal threats in order to obtain a conviction for making a criminal threat.
The following are the all of the elements of criminal threats the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The perpetrator willfully threatened to inflict great bodily injury or death to the victim or their immediate family member in an unlawful manner. “Willfully” means the defendant did something of his/her own free will and with intention. “Unlawfully” means the action the defendant threatened to take is against the law.
- The perpetrator made a verbal, written, or interactive threat. If a person makes a “threatening” gesture, it is not enough to be deemed a criminal threat. For instance, if someone points their fingers at another individual in the form of a gun, the person making the hand gesture cannot be convicted because a reasonable individual would not believe they are being “immediately threatened.”
- The perpetrator understands he/she made a threat. A criminal defense lawyer could attempt to raise reasonable doubt that the defendant intended his/her statement to be a threat by providing some context behind the statement in question, which demonstrates that it was not supposed to be taken as a threat.
- The threat is serious. To be convicted, the defendant's statement has left zero doubt that he/she intended to cause another individual to fear for their safety.
- The threat caused the victim to be frightened for his/her own life or the life of the immediate family. The victim must have felt a “sustained fear,” meaning he/she had an actual fear for their safety for more than just a fleeting moment.
- The victim has a reasonable fear of harm. This means that any reasonable person in the same situation as the alleged victim would have believed the threat and taken the matter with utmost seriousness.
If the defendant's actions failed to meet all of the elements of the crime, he/she cannot be convicted.
If you have been charged with making criminal threats in Ventura County, contact Wilfert Law P.C. today.