Domestic Violence - Terrorists Threats
While this offense is not limited to domestic violence if often arises in that context.
It is a criminal offense for a person to willfully threaten to commit a criminal act against another that would result in death or serious injury, and to make that threat with the intent that it be taken as a threat, even if the person who makes it has no intent to actually fulfill the threat. The threat may be communicated verbally, in writing, in an email, and it must, “on its face and under the circumstances in which it is made, [be] so unequivocal unconditional, immediate, and specific as to convey to the person threatened a gravity of purpose, and an immediate prospect of execution of the threat.” The threat must result in the person threatened to be reasonably fearful for their safety or that of their immediate family.1
A conviction of this offense can result either in a commitment to state prison for 16 months, 2, or 3 years; or a commitment to a county jail for up to one year. What follows are some examples where appellate courts have consider certain elements of this offense.
Communication to Victim
Where a threat was made through a closed door while pounding on the door in an overt display of violence, and where the person making the threat could not see his intended victim, it was held by a court that this was sufficient to establish a violation of the offense since section 422 does not required that the person making the threat actually see the victim, it is enough that the victim hear the threat, and that the threat accomplished its intended goal which was to instill fear in the mind of the victim.
However, if a person communicates a threat against another to a third person, there is no violation without evidence that the third person communicated the threat to the intended party, or that the person making the threat actually intend that the third person communicate the threat to the person threatened. In this instance, the person who was is in jail and made the threat to a psychologist, but there was no evidence that the threat was ever communicated to the person threatened, or that the person making the threat actually intended the psychologist to communicate the threat.
Unequivocal, Immediate, Specific Nature of Threat
Where a student told a teacher, “I’m going to get you” after the teacher had accidentally hit him with a door, it was found to be too ambiguous, nor immediate enough, and there was no display of physical violence, or a prior history or disagreement between the two for it to be considered a criminal threat.
Where a student held is finger to his mouth and uttered either, “shush” or “sh” to two other students indicating that they should not talk to the police, and then pulled his finger across his throat in a gesture indicating a knife, this was sufficient to be verbal, immediate statement and a criminal threat.
Where a threat by the ex-boy of the victim was made while he lived in Texas, and she lived in California, it was determined to be sufficiently immediate given the fact that there was a 19 year history of escalating violence by the ex against her and he had travel to California in the past.
Inmate’s threats to correction officer were he said in 10 months when he was released he would find him and “blast” him was sufficiently “unequivocal” to constitute a violation.
Victim's Mental State
The person making a threat must intend that it is in fact a threat to commit a criminal act causing injury or death, and it must cause the person threated a state of “sustained fear. “Sustain fear” means more than merely a passing reaction; it must constant and continuing.
1 Section 422 of the California Penal Code