A 24-year-old Palo Alto man (name withheld in order to protect the privacy of the accused) seems by all accounts to have been walking down the street, minding his own business, when several teenagers, deciding it would be funny to set off fireworks in a nearby parking garage, hit him with a lit incendiary. No one but the man can say what was going through his mind as he ascended the parking garage and allegedly proceeded to attack the young persons above. What is certain is that he was angry with them for having thrown the firework that hit him. The 5 teens claim that he came out of nowhere, pushing one of them and asking for money from another. He then threatened to throw them off of the roof where the confrontation was taking place. He was eventually charged with several different crimes: misdemeanor battery (CA Penal Code 242), felony criminal threats (CA Penal Code 422), and felony robbery (CA Penal Code 487).
If convicted, he will face jail time and fines per the misdemeanor battery and felony robbery charges. Many Californians are at least somewhat aware of the penalties for the above crimes. However, there are perhaps few that are aware of what the charge of “felony criminal threats” really means. Threatening another person becomes criminal when you make someone fearful that you will kill them or physically harm them, you have to say these things directly, your threat must be specific, and the other person has experience fear as a result of your threats. It doesn’t matter whether or not it is possible for you to carry out your threats or whether you meant them at the time; you could still be arrested pursuant to CA PC 422.
This crime is what is known as a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that prosecutors must decide whether they will prosecute it as a felony or as a misdemeanor. If he is found guilty of felony criminal threats, he may spend 4 years in state prison. It is also considered a ‘strike’ under California’s Three Strikes law.