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Criminal Threats Law, Sentence, & Defense

PC 422(a) Crimes

The law on the crime of Criminal Threats is found at California Penal Code Section 422(a) (or PC 422). Criminal threats is formerly known as terroristic threat. In short, Criminal threats means to threaten another person with immediate and serious harm, or death. 

To be found guilty of criminal threats under PC 422 the District Attorney must prove that the Defendant did all of the following:

  • Willfully made a statement that threatened to kill or cause great bodily injury to another person (victim), and

  • Communicated the statement to the victim and intended that the statement be understood by the victim as a threat to the victim, and

  • The statement was clear, unconditional, and specific, and

  • The defendant intended that the threat was to be carried out immediately, and

  • The defendant had the apparent ability to carry out the threat immediately, and

  • The threatening statement actually caused the victim to be in reasonable fear for his or her own safety or the safety of his immediate family.

PC 422 Sentence

Criminal Threats is considered a wobbler in California. A wobbler is a crime that may be charge as a misdemeanor or as a felony. Both misdemeanor and felony criminal threats charges are filed under PC 422(a). For purposes of distinction in San Bernardino County, felony criminal threats appears as PC422(a)-F in charging documents, and misdemeanor criminal threats appears as PC422(a)-M.

Note: In some cases of felony criminal threats charges it may be possible to have the judge reduce the charges to a misdemeanor, even if the District Attorney objects to the judge's re-classification.

When PC 422(a) is charged as a misdemeanor, the defendant may face up to one year in a county jail. When PC 422 is charged as a felony, the Defendant may face up to three years in state prison.

Probation: A probation sentence is period of supervision, in lieu of a long jail sentence. Probation sentences, with or without some limited jail time, is allowed in in PC 422 cases. However, a probation sentence is not guaranteed. Whether or not a person will be granted a probation sentence after a conviction for criminal threats depends largely on the facts of the case and the defendant's criminal history. Usually, when a defendant is sentenced to jail as part of a PC 422(a) conviction, that jail sentence may be served alternatively on work release or house arrest (electronic monitoring).

PC 1170(h) Sentence: If the defendant is sentenced to prison on a felony criminal threats charge, as opposed to being granted probation, then he or she will serve his sentence in a state prison, as opposed to a local county jail, and no part of that prison sentence may be split or suspended (sometimes called joint suspension).


Three Strikes Law: Felony Criminal Threats is considered a "strike crimes" under California Three Strikes Law. However, misdemeanor criminal threats is not considered a strike.

CIMT: The crime of criminal threats is considered a crime involving moral turpitude. This means that if the defendant is convicted of criminal threats, either as a felony or as a misdemeanor, he or she may have problem with his or her immigration status (deportation or denial of entry into the United States),or professional licensing status (doctor, dentist, therapist, teacher, etc.).

Note: PC 422(a) is a fifty percent crime. This means that if the defendant is sentenced to jail or prison the defendant is entitled to two days of jail or prison credit for every one day actually served.

In addition to the punishment listed above, if convicted of PC 422(a), the defendant could suffer and of the following penalties: criminal protective orders, restitution, fines and fees, enhanced penalties for subsequent crimes,denial or entry into the armed forces, civil lawsuits, and more.

Defense to PC 422(a)

Defenses to Criminal threats include: A violation of the statute of limitations (3 years), Insufficient evidence to prove any element of the crime improper police procedure, illegal evidence, coerced confessions, use of illegal recordings to gain evidence (PC 632 violations), and more.


Note: The fact that the Defendant would not have been able to carry out the specific threat that was made to the victim is not a defense to a criminal threats.

If you have been charged with criminal threats, or PC 422(a) (formally terroristic threats), contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our criminal defense attorneys dedicate 100% of their practice to criminal defense and initial consultations are provided at no cost to the accused. Call today!


Related Crimes

  • Attempted Criminal Threats PC 664/422

  • Assault w/Deadly Weapon PC 245

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