Are Verbal Threats a Crime in California?
Verbal threats can be considered a crime or assault in California. California Penal Code Section 240 defines assault as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” A verbal threat alone may constitute an assault if it is threatening enough that it could put a reasonable person in fear of imminent physical harm.
At Dod Law, APC, our experienced assault defense attorneys can help you to understand all aspects of assault laws in California, including the defenses available and possible punishments. In this article, we will explore what types of speech are covered under the First Amendment, what constitutes verbal assault, and the penalties for verbal assault in California.
What Constitutes a Verbal Threat and is it a Crime?
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution laid the foundation for freedom of speech and expression. The amendment states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Despite its broad scope, there are certain types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment and are considered a threat to public safety, quickly turning into verbal assault in the heat of the moment. Examples of non-protected speech can include:
Inciting Immediate Lawless Action
Speech that calls on people to break the law has no protection under the First Amendment. This includes encouraging a group of people to riot or otherwise engage in criminal activities. Such speech is seen as a threat to public safety and can be subject to criminal charges.
Obscene and Indecent Speech
It is important to note that what is considered obscene and indecent is often subjective and can vary based on the context of the statement. However, if the speech involves extreme profanity, sexual content, racial slurs, or extreme violence, it may be seen as offensive to the public and constitute verbal assault.
Speech that is intended to insult or provoke a person or group of people into physical altercations is not tolerated. It is important to note that the definition of fighting words can vary depending on the context and the audience. However, examples include making direct threats of violence, using racial slurs, or making extreme insults.
How Will the Prosecution Try to Prove I Made a Verbal Threat?
If you’ve been arrested for criminal threats and assault, the prosecution will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to cause the other person fear of imminent physical harm. To do this, they may present a variety of arguments that highlight the intent behind your words, which may include the following:
The Words Used
The prosecution may argue that the words used in the threat demonstrate the intent to cause fear and imminent physical harm. They may point to the language and tone used in the threat as evidence of your criminal intent.
The Context of the Threat
By pointing to any past history of violence or abuse between you and the other person, the prosecution may contend that your words were intended to put the other person in fear of imminent physical harm.
They may also look at the context of the threat, such as whether it was made in public, in private, or whether it was made in the presence of other people. If only one person heard the threat, the prosecution may argue that the other person had no way of knowing whether or not you were serious about the threat.
You Were Willing and Able to Carry Out the Threat
If, for example, you were in possession of some sort of weapon when the alleged verbal assault occurred, the prosecution may claim that you were willing and able to carry out the threat. This can also apply if the defendant makes threatening gestures, such as raising fists, throwing items, or punching a wall.
What Are the Penalties for Making Verbal Threats in California?
Verbal assault is a “wobbler” offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity. If convicted of a misdemeanor assault, the penalties can include up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, and/or informal probation. If convicted of felony assault, the penalties can include up to four years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and/or formal probation.
However, making verbal threats in California can also result in criminal charges for a variety of other offenses, such as stalking, criminal threats, hate crimes, and making terrorist threats. Each of these offenses carries its own set of penalties, which can range from a few months in jail to life in prison.
Get the Help You Need Defending Yourself From Assault Allegations with Dod Law, APC
Are Verbal Threats a Crime in California? If you’re facing criminal charges for verbal assault, it is important to have experienced legal counsel on your side. At Dod Law, APC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys will work tirelessly to protect your rights and ensure that you receive the best possible outcome for your case.
Our attorneys have over 18 years of knowledge to build a comprehensive defense that takes into account the facts of your case, the applicable laws, and the prosecution’s strategy. We will work with you every step of the way to make sure that you understand your rights and the legal options available to you. Don’t wait to get the help you need – contact us online or give us a call at (619) 814-5110 today to schedule a free initial consultation.