Any threats about school shootings will be taken very seriously. La Jolla police demonstrated this when they arrested a 15-year-old student for making two distinct threats to shoot up his high school earlier this month. The student reportedly made one threat verbally and posted the other threat on social media for public consumption. When police arrested the boy they did not discover any firearms in his home. School shooting threat-related arrests have been on the rise in San Diego. The La Jolla boy is the sixth to be arrested for making threats in past few weeks.
Making Criminal Threats
While we have the freedom to say the things that are on our minds, this right does not necessarily protect our harmful, hateful, or inciteful speech. California law explicitly criminalizes speech threatening great bodily harm that puts others in a state of imminent fear. Under California Penal Code 422 PC, it is a crime to make specific threats to kill or physically harm another person. You can face criminal charges if those threats put victims in reasonable fear for their safety.
What is a Criminal Threat?
A statement will only be considered to be a threat if it is clear, immediate, unconditional, and specific. Simply making general statements about your desire to harm another person will generally not be sufficient to classify it as a criminal threat. However, if you provided some clarity or detail about your plan to harm a person, that statement may be considered threatening. The words that are chosen, the manner in which they are conveyed, and any relevant circumstances can be considered when determining if a statement should be classified as a criminal threat.
When is a Threat Immediate?
Is threatening to shoot up your school in a week an immediate threat? How about threatening to bring a gun to school in the morning? When will a threat be considered “immediate” for the purposes of Penal Code 422? Contrary to what you may think, you do not have to have the immediate capability to carry out a threat. Instead, the context of your threat will be used to determine if the threat was genuine and would likely be carried out at some point in the near future. Whether or not a threat is immediate will be a question of fact.
How Can Criminal Threats Be Made?
California law has a fairly broad definition of what can be considered a threat. Any threatening statements made verbally, in writing, or electronically can be classified as a criminal threat. The boy arrested in La Jolla made criminal threats in two ways: verbally and electronically. Both are against the law.
Threats Must Be Intended
California law requires that the person making the threat (a) intend for it to be taken as a threat and (b) put victims in reasonable apprehension of fear.
Intent to Make a Threat: You cannot be convicted for making criminal threats if you didn’t intend for your statement to be taken seriously.
Reasonable Apprehension of Fear: In order to be convicted for making criminal threats, your statement must make the victim fearful for his or her safety, or the safety of an immediate family member.
Penalties for Making Criminal Threats
Making criminal threats can be a misdemeanor or a felony in California. The charge will depend on:
- Whether you intended to carry out the threat
- The degree of harm suffered by your victim(s), and
- Your criminal record.
Penalties for making criminal threats include:
- Misdemeanor Criminal Threats: Maximum of 1 year in jail and $1,000 in fines.
- Felony Criminal Threats: Maximum of 3 years in prison and $10,000 in fines.
Fighting Charges for Making Criminal Threats in San Diego
It is important to fight back whenever you are accused of breaking the law. If you have been arrested and/or charged with making criminal threats do not hesitate to contact the San Diego Criminal Law Center for immediate assistance. Our attorneys can help you fight to minimize the consequences of your arrest and protect your future. Call us today to set up a free consultation.