When you or a loved one faces criminal charges involving domestic violence, you risk facing severe repercussions. These legal consequences often arise after the court finds you guilty of the offense. You want to work with a competent and experienced criminal defense attorney to help fight the allegations. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, you will benefit from our professional and high-quality legal services. Our goal is to ensure we fight for your rights and represent you in court in the best possible way and increase the chances of a positive outcome.
The Nature of Criminal Threat Charges
Once you face arrest and detention, the arresting officers should inform you of the charges you will face to help you prepare for the subsequent steps. Thus, being charged with issuing criminal threats is an offense prohibited under section 422 of the California Penal Code.
According to the provisions, an offender commits the crime when they issue death threats or threaten to cause grievous bodily harm to the receptor of threats. Similarly, the victim should develop reasonable fear for their safety stemming from the threats before a charge is officially introduced in court.
You should also note that criminal threats offenses are classified as wobbler crimes. This means that you may face misdemeanor or felony charges, depending on the case circumstances. If you encounter a felony, you risk receiving severe penalties that hinder your return to everyday life afterward.
What to Expect as You Prepare for the Criminal Trial Process
Under criminal procedure guidelines, the prosecutor takes on all criminal cases upon receiving reports. Therefore, you want to learn the legal guidelines informing the trial process to equip yourself with the best defenses possible.
Usually, the burden of proof in criminal cases is on the prosecutor, meaning they are obligated to prove your involvement in the alleged offense. Further, the prosecution team is held to a strict standard of proof in criminal cases; beyond a reasonable doubt. Based on this standard, you will not be convicted of the offense unless the prosecutor successfully shows your engagement in all elements of the crime.
Since the elements of crime all entail different factors, the prosecution’s burden and standard of proof may take a toll on them. Nevertheless, this would be an excellent opportunity to introduce reasonable doubt and increase your chances of success in the matter.
However, you should remember that the prosecutor works with a team of officers and witnesses when building your case. Hence, you can expect a good case backed by clear facts that, if proved, would result in your conviction. The prosecutor will also use a specific standard of requirements to determine whether your case qualifies for trial.
Factors Considered Before the Prosecutor Takes on Your Criminal Threats Case
Criminal threat offenses operate under a strict spectrum of circumstances, meaning that the prosecutor should be careful with the matters they choose to proceed with. They are also guided by criminal procedure rules that dictate a specific way of conducting trials. Firstly, they should source as much evidence as possible and relevant to your issue.
Afterward, they will consolidate the evidential sources and conduct a pre-trial conference. During this court session, your criminal defense lawyer will receive all the details and evidence the prosecution intends to rely on. This information is mainly related to the elements of crime related to the offense, so the prosecution team must have a credible case.
As a result, they will refer to the following expectations/requirements when presenting your case to court:
Whether You Issued Threat While Intoxicated or Temporarily Insane
One of the valid reasons to discard criminal threat cases is when the accused acted outside their usual mental capacity. For example, an intoxicated person often uses words or commits actions under poor judgment. Subsequently, they are more prone to issuing criminal threats despite having no intention of fulfilling them.
Similarly, the court considers circumstances where an accused person may be said to have been temporarily insane. For example, if you were so drunk that you did not know what you were doing or did not know that what you were doing was wrong, the complainant’s report is likely to be discarded. Similarly, medical conditions or extremely traumatic experiences may put you in a state of temporary insanity.
Whether You Have a Criminal Record
Accused persons with a criminal record are prone to having their matters processed for hearing more often than first-time offenders. The phenomenon manifests itself primarily because a criminal record indicates your profile as a potential lawbreaker currently.
Although the outlook is unfair for most accused persons, your criminal defense attorney can help you justify why the current charge should be dismissed. Thus, you do not have to worry about facing an unfair trial process. Typically, the prosecutor will check for records on offenses committed within the last two years since the current charge.
Whether the Criminal Threats Were Issued in Relation to Domestic Violence
The dominant set of circumstances prompting prosecution of criminal threat charges is if they were issued within the domestic setting. This is because victims involved in domestic violence are more exposed to safety risks, as the offender likely knows their area of residence and work. Due to this, preference is given to threats issued within the domestic violence context to promote victim protection at all costs.
If You Used Deadly Weapons When Issuing the Criminal Threats
Naturally, offenders who use deadly weapons to commit offenses to expose themselves to more case scrutiny and harsher penalties if found guilty. Therefore, the prosecutor prioritizes cases where the offender used a deadly weapon.
In this context, a deadly weapon is any instrument that could result in the severe injury or death of the victim. Thus, objects like guns, knives, sharp tools, broken glass, harmful chemicals, and explosives are all considered deadly and will attract the prosecutor’s attention when preparing a case against you.
Records of Your Criminal Threats to the Victim
Before proceeding to court, the prosecutor must be satisfied with sufficient evidence to rely on. This involves confirming that the complainant furnishes the prosecution team with any documentary records of threats issued to them.
Usually, the prosecutor will accept diverse forms of evidence from text messages, images, audio, and video recordings, among others from the offender. If the complainant does not provide the sources, their case is highly likely to be dropped.
Elements of Crime Related to Issuing Criminal Threats
As mentioned, the prosecutor must satisfy all elements of crime involved in issuing criminal threats before the judge issues their verdict.
Due to this, you want to learn the possible tactics applicable when the prosecutor is arguing their case. Understanding the potential evidential sources presented in court may also be beneficial in building a solid defense. The following are the main elements of crime in your case:
You Acted Wilfully When Issuing Death Threats or Threats to Severely Injure the Victim
Firstly, the prosecutor must prove that your actions were willful, meaning you committed the offense voluntarily, with your goals in mind. To do this, they must also provide proof of your criminal intention to issue the threats, as it is a significant component of their case.
Issuing proof of acting wilfully may not always be straightforward because it entails proving the accused’s state of mind. Hence, the prosecutor relies on circumstantial evidence to drive their point home. They may source this from witness statements and testimonies, as well as any recordings showing you in action.
Further, the evidential sources must confirm your criminal intent by showing how you intended your threats to affect the victim. This eliminates the possibility of any statements made in a neutral setting or where they were supposed to be taken lightly.
You should note that the threats do not necessarily have to point out committing a specific offense. For example, you do not have to state that you will set the victim’s house on fire for the prosecutor to derive a criminal threat.
Instead, the prosecution team may pick up on wordings or analogies indicating an intention to harm the victim. Overall, the only distinguishable factor in your threats should be that you intend to end the victim’s life or to cause grievous bodily harm.
You Intended Your Statements to be Taken as Threats
The prosecutor must also be careful to distinguish statements meant to be perceived as threats. Often, they will do this by measuring the intensity and reality in your statements to determine your criminal intentions.
For example, statements made lightly do not have to be understood or heard by the victim. However, offenders involved in issuing criminal threats often go out of their way to ensure the intended receptor understands the message. They often do this to instill fear and coerce cooperation from the victim as a final resort.
Subsequently, the prosecutor may research your actions involving the delivery of your message. They may also inquire about the police reports, witness statements, and message delivery mode to issue the victim’s threats.
If an element of seriousness and potential danger is easily identified from your statements, the prosecutor can conclude that you intended them to be threats.
The Statements Were Transmitted Through an Electronic, Verbal or Written Medium
Furthermore, the prosecutor must prove that your statements were transmitted to the victim in a medium capable of delivering the message. The mode of delivery may range depending on the case circumstances and your intention of instilling fear.
Among the common ways to issue criminal threats in the modern era is electronic. In this case, you may rely on devices like your phone, computer, tablet, or pager to transmit the message. The court will also consider the application used when transmitting threats, including text messages, recorded audio and video files, and photographs.
It is also noteworthy that investigation officers are also catching up to suspected persons’ social media activity when sourcing evidence of criminal threats. For example, tagging the alleged victim to a social media post with a violent theme can be perceived as a criminal threat for prosecution purposes.
Moreover, any private messages sent and received through a social media application can be scrutinized without prejudice to your right to privacy or data protection laws. The investigation officers will only need the warrant to search electronic material.
Alternatively, you may have issued the criminal threats through written means. Common ways to deliver the message include letters or coded messages in writing. You can expect the prosecutor to include a handwriting expert as a witness in their case.
The expert’s primary role is to confirm that the handwriting on the exhibit document matches your usual handwriting, meaning you are highly likely to be the culprit.
Issuing verbal threats is also not uncommon, especially when arguing in a heated moment. If your case involves accusations of verbal criminal threats, the prosecutor will source evidence from different elements.
For example, surveillance footage may reveal your heated arguments and replay the exact words you used when threatening the victim. Similarly, audio entailing the types of threats issued is acceptable in court, provided your voice is verified to be the same as the one in the clip.
Presenting witnesses as you issued the threats is also common for the prosecutor, as their evidence is admissible. However, you should note that witness testimonies may sometimes be inconsistent, and consequently, one person may contradict the other’s report.
While this may weaken the prosecutor’s case, your criminal defense lawyer can help you take advantage of the situation. Their defense strategy may involve attacking the integrity of witness statements to introduce reasonable doubt in the case.
You Made Specific Threats Capable of Immediate Execution
The nature of your threats is an important factor to consider because it will inform the victim’s reaction. Hence, the prosecutor should show that your threats were specific to the victim’s circumstances and that they were unconditional. This means that you were ready to execute your threats at any time provided the victim did not meet your expectations.
Although conditional threats may amount to criminal threats in some cases, the prosecutor must apply themselves to the facts in question. For example, a conditional threat may be taken seriously if it still puts the victim in danger for failing to appease the offender.
If you had said you would not harm the victim on the condition that they deliver their promise to you, it could still be translated as a direct and specific threat. Due to this, your criminal defense attorney should be keen when preparing a defense to counter the issuance of conditional threats.
The Receptor of Threats Reasonably Feared for their Safety
Finally, the element of fear must be sufficiently proved for the judge to hold you guilty of issuing criminal threats. Naturally, the victim is expected to face sustained fear from your statements, meaning it is perceived as dangerous.
As a result, the prosecutor may choose to present the victim’s state of mind under three different circumstances. Each case will involve circumstances altogether so that you can consult your criminal lawyer for the best way forward.
Firstly, the receptor of threats must have genuinely feared for their life or the life of their loved ones. The prosecutor can depict this state of mind based on your reaction after you made your threats.
For example, if the person contacted the police immediately and proceeded to file applications for a protective order, the judge may consider them to have been reasonably afraid. Additionally, the victim’s direct reactions through body language often signify the magnitude of fear that your threats evoked in them.
You should also remember that the victim’s reactions to the fear should be proportional to the type of threat issued. This will help guide the court on the best argument strategy to adopt in making a final determination. For example, if the prosecutor’s evidence demonstrates that the victim did not take the threat seriously, your charges are more likely to be dropped.
The prosecutor must also ensure that the fear was sustained, meaning that it lasted for a reasonable duration after receiving the threat. In doing so, the prosecutor will have proven that the threats in question were serious, as they alluded to killing the victim or harming them severely.
Evidence to prove that the victim’s fear was sustained includes detailed testimonies from the complainant regarding the mental anguish, anxiety, and protective measures taken following the threats.
Defenses Applicable to Criminal Threat Charges
The prosecutor concludes their case after presenting on all elements of crime and calling all witnesses to the stand for testimonial evidence. Afterward, your criminal defense attorney will explain the defenses applicable in the circumstances to persuade the judge of our innocence.
Upon contacting a criminal defense lawyer to handle your case, they should perform due diligence and establish whether the circumstances align with your counterarguments. Moreover, you can find witnesses ready to testify on your behalf and provide a different account of events to contradict the prosecutor’s case. This will go a long way in eliminating the probability of a conviction for you.
The following are applicable defenses for criminal threat charges:
- You face false accusations or are a victim of police misconduct.
- The alleged threats were made vaguely or were too unclear to evoke fear in the victim.
- The victim’s fear lasted for only a short duration.
- You were protected by the freedom of speech constitutional provision.
- The victim reacted disproportionally to the threats in question.
Although a criminal defense attorney will spearhead the defense case presentation, it is advisable to provide any details, evidential sources, or facts to help your case. This is primarily because you can better recount the events as they are, meaning the argument is more sound.
Penalties for Issuing Criminal Threats
Typically, the prosecutor wins their case when they prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable time. Therefore, if the judge does not find your defenses solid and contradictory to the prosecutor’s case, you will be found guilty. The sentencing follows the events whereby you will learn of the specific punishments to answer to for your actions.
As discussed, criminal threat charges are wobbler crimes, meaning they may attract misdemeanor or felony charges. Due to this, the prosecutor will have considered various elements before registering your case as a misdemeanor or as a felony.
For example, having a criminal record is more likely to attract a felony charge, owing to the severity of your background. Furthermore, having a weapon present when issuing the threats is expected to yield harsh outcomes for involved offenders.
When charged with a misdemeanor, you could face up to one year in county jail or pay a fine of up to $1000. As a felony, the offense results in a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine payment of up to $10,000.
The judge can apply discretion to enhance or reduce the sentences. In any instance, they will rely on the case circumstances to reach a final determination. Moreover, the judge considered any statements made in mitigation to highlight your hardships.
They will then issue the final judgment based on these statements. Your criminal defense lawyer will be instrumental in guiding you on the best way to present the mitigation statements. Conversely, they can deliver them on your behalf for ease of articulation.
Contact a Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Fighting a criminal charge can be quite demanding, especially when you have to fulfill multiple court requirements as the trial continues. As a result, the workload may overwhelm you and compromise the quality of defenses you raise. Therefore, working with a skilled criminal defense lawyer is advisable, as you will have a better chance of fighting the prosecutor's arguments. In return, you are better positioned to achieve a favorable case outcome like an acquittal or a reduced sentence.
At the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we work hard to see that criminal cases proceed with minimal to no interruptions and inconveniences. Our team is trained to help clients facing criminal threat charges by building solid defense strategies. For more details on how to defend your case, call us today at 951-946-6366.