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, Winchester or Riverside.