You hear it all the time: "I didn't mean it”, “I was
just angry”, “I didn't plan to do anything” or “It
was just a joke!"
Not all threats are criminal matters, but the question becomes: when does
a verbal threat cross the line to actually committing a crime?
Consider the Facebook case brought before the Supreme Court by Pennsylvania
defendant Anthony Elonis, who was convicted in 2011 of posting threats
against his estranged wife. After she obtained a protective order against
him, Elonis wrote, “Fold up your [order] and put it in your pocket/Is
it thick enough to stop a bullet?”
Twitter has its share of damage as well. Most well-known is Curt Schilling,
the professional baseball player and World Series champion who exposed
the identities of two men who sent violent sexually explicit messages
to his 17-year-old daughter. Schilling’s got one man fired from
his job, and the other expelled from his job at a university.
Under California Penal Code 422, in order to prove someone is guilty of
a criminal threat, the prosecutor must prove that:
1. The defendant willfully threatened to unlawfully kill or unlawfully
cause great bodily injury;
2. The defendant made the threat (orally / in writing / by electronic communication device);
3. The defendant intended that (his / her) statement be understood as a
threat [and intended that it be communicated to];
4. The threat was so clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific that
it communicated to a serious intention and the immediate prospect that
the threat would be carried out;
5. The threat actually caused (Person’s name) to be in sustained
fear for (his / her) own safety [or for the safety of (his / her) immediate family];
6. (Person’s name)’s fear was reasonable under the circumstances.
Whether the threat is transmitted in person, by Facebook or text message,
the result is the same: sustained fear. Whether or not the person making
the threat can execute it or say they didn't mean it, the prosecutor
can still charge him / her with a crime.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for making a criminal threat, contact
our law office. We can help! Our office is located in Murrieta and we
work with individuals from Temecula, Menifee, Wildomar, Murrieta, Lake
Elsinore, Hemet, Perris, Banning, Corona or Riverside.