Articles Tagged with criminal threats

This past summer, the California Supreme Court ruled in San Francisco that a menacing nonverbal gesture does not qualify as a criminal threat under state law. The court issued its ruling in the case of a Riverside County man, Mario Gonzalez, who was accused of making threats with hand gestures toward an off-duty police officer while he was sitting at a restaurant patio with four friends, back in 2013.

Gonzalez was accused of making a “JT” hand sign, which was a symbol of a California gang known as “Jackson Terrace,” and then used his hands to simulate a gun, which he pointed at the cop and his friends. The officer claims the gesture frightened him, and Gonzalez was charged by the district attorney with five counts of making a criminal threat.

CA Penal Code § 422 – 422.4 is the state statute that governs criminal threats. It was last amended by the Legislature in 1998 to include electronic threats. California law makes it a crime to “threaten death or serious bodily injury with a statement “made verbally, in writing or by means of an electronic communication device.”

Justice Carol Corrigan wrote in the court’s ruling that the phrase “made verbally” refers to actual words, written or spoken, and not to gestures. “Nothing in logic or reason allows us to interpret “made verbally” to include nonverbal conduct,” she wrote. This is not the first time that Penal Code § 422 has been found to be lacking clarity. The court noted it would be up to the state’s legislature to include symbolic nonverbal gestures to make menacing hand gestures a crime.  ee  People v. Gonzalez, No. S223763, 2017 WL 2376597, at *1 (Cal. June 1, 2017) quoting People v. Scott (2014) 58 Cal.4th 1415, 1421.

As a result, the criminal threat charges were dismissed.

The Current Standard for “Threats”

Criminal threats can be either a gross misdemeanor or felony in California, depending on the circumstances and severity. Prosecutors have the discretion to decide. The standard test is that they must prove the person you ‘threatened’ had a reasonable fear for his or her safety under the circumstances.   

This means, for example, if a person responds by saying “I’m not scared of you,” that would be helpful for your defense. Continue reading

It recently made national headlines that a creepy clown craze has swept the globe. Across the nation, police have received reports of people in creepy clown costumes trying to lure children or scare people. While the state of California seems to have escaped it the past several months, creepy clowns have official hit Southern California. Through a series of Facebook and social media posts, it was announced that clowns would be visiting Los Angeles County schools, including Pasadena and Whittier.

In Fontana, California, a 14-year-old high school student was arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats against students on social media. The teen had taken “a scary clown picture” under the name of “FontanaKillerClown” and posted it on Instagram. He was arrested at school and booked into a juvenile detention center. In Glendora, California, police also arrested a 19-year-old man on suspicion of making threats against his old high school through social media accounts dedicated to clowns. The Temecula Valley Unified School District also suffered threats through social media that the schools in the region were going to be shot up by clowns. Lastly, the LAPD has reported that there have been pranksters that have threatened the general public with violence by dressing up as clowns and following/chasing them with kitchen knives.   

While some think dressing up as a scary clown and scaring people is a funny prank, law enforcement certainly does not think so. The wave of clown terror is affecting actual clowns who depend on their profession to pay the bills, and also has the potential to affect the way the nation celebrates Halloween. It is not recommended that you dress up as a clown or any other objectively scary character to threaten or scare people.

Laws that Pertain to Halloween Pranks

  • Criminal threats: You may not realize it, but even dressing up and chasing someone with a knife can constitute a criminal threat. All that is required is that the victim feared for his or her life or safety. See CA Penal Code § 422.
  • Vandalism: Vandalism does not have to involve breaking something or graffiti. Toilet papering and egging your neighbor’s house can still result in criminal charges. See CA Penal Code § 594.
  • Trespassing: If you enter someone else’s property with intent to damage that property (ie. throw eggs), you may also face criminal trespass charges. See CA Penal Code § 602.
  • Restrictions on Sex Offenders: Some states have restricted registered sex offenders from passing out candy, etc. on Halloween. California allows police to do checks to make sure some registered offenders are inside their homes with the lights out.

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