Are Criminal Threats a Misdemeanor or a Felony in California?

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The criminal threats penal code, California Penal Code 422, provides that it is a crime to communicate a threat to another that could result in great bodily injury or death.

California considers the crime of making criminal threats as a “wobbler.” Wobbler offenses, such as making criminal threats, can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. 

If you have been charged with making criminal threats, please contact one of our criminal defense attorneys to defend you today.

What Does the Prosecution Need to Prove in a Criminal Threats Charge?

To convict someone of making criminal threats, the prosecution must be able to prove several elements of the crime.

California Jury Instructions 1300 provides that the prosecution must prove that the accused engaged in the following:

  • Willfully threatened to injure or kill another;
  • The threat was electronic, written, or verbal;
  • The offender meant for their communication to be understood as a threat;
  • The threat was specific to the victim; and 
  • The threat would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of their immediate family. 

The prosecution must prove every element beyond a reasonable doubt at trial to convict someone of making criminal threats. 

What Is a Wobbler Offense in California? 

A “wobbler” offense is a particular class of crime where the conduct and associated penalties vary in seriousness. Wobblers can be punishable as a felony or misdemeanor.

However, in California, a wobbler is presumably a felony unless the court uses its discretion to pursue the crime as a misdemeanor.

A court may classify an offense as a wobbler based on the accused’s history and the severity of their conduct. 

What Are Criminal Threats?

Under California law, making criminal threats refers to explicit communications of a particular threat to inflict great bodily injury that places the victim in sustained fear. Great bodily injury means a significant physical injury.

Some examples of criminal threats in California include the following:

  • Verbally threatening to stab another person while holding a knife,
  • Texting a current or former partner that you will set their house on fire, or
  • Posting a video on social media threatening to bomb a school. 

Conditional threats are threats to do harm if the victim does not comply with the offender’s request.

In addition to violating Penal Code 422, conditional threats can carry additional charges if something like extortion or blackmail applies. 

What Is a Possible Criminal Threats Sentence? 

Those convicted of misdemeanor criminal threats may face the following penalties:

  • Up to one year in jail,
  • Fines up to $1,000, and 
  • Summary probation.  

If the crime is pursued as a felony, then the offender may face the following consequences:

  • Up to three years in state prison,
  • Fines up to $10,000, and 
  • Formal Probation.

A felony conviction for making criminal threats counts as a “strike” under California’s three-strike statute. As such, making criminal threats could potentially result in a life sentence. 

Defending a Criminal Threats Charge

Most defenses involve challenging the elements of the crime to create reasonable doubt.

The most common defenses to a criminal threats charge include demonstrating the following:

  • The threat was not specific or immediate,
  • The victim’s fear was unreasonable,
  • The threat was not particular and was instead a mere gesture,
  • The accuser is not credible, and
  • There was no threat. 

An experienced attorney can help you defend against these allegations and secure the best possible outcome. 

Are You Facing Charges Related to Making Criminal Threats?

If you have been charged with making criminal threats, it is essential that you select an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you.

At The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, our Southern California criminal defense attorneys proudly represent men and women charged with all types of serious misdemeanor and felony offenses.

We understand the stress and anxiety that comes with pending criminal charges, and we will do everything we can to ensure that your recent arrest has as little impact on your life as possible.

To learn more and to schedule a free consultation, call The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, at 619-304-1359 today. You can also reach us through our online form

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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