(California Penal Code sections 211 P.C., 213 P.C., & 422(a) P.C., 518 P.C. & 523 P.C.et seq.)
The Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm has defended hundreds of individuals since 2005 for a wide variety of violent crimes, ranging from simple assault up to murder with a firearm. While those practice areas are discussed elsewhere on this site, we also discuss below the following miscellaneous violent crimes that we handle below: criminal threats, extortion, and robbery.
Criminal Threats (California Penal Code section 422(a) P.C.)
If you communicate in any manner words that you intend will frighten or instill terror in one or more people, you could be convicted of making criminal threats. The threat can be made orally or via any written or electronic means.
The only intent the prosecutor needs to prove is the effect you intended the communication to have on the listener (or reader) – i.e., you wanted the threat to be taken at face value. This means you can be convicted even if you never actually planned to carry out the threat.
The threatened harm must involve serious bodily harm or death. Generic, vague, or contingent statements are not actionable under this law.
As a so-called “wobbler crime”, you might be prosecuted for a misdemeanor or a felony – that decision is left to the Deputy District Attorney assigned to your case. But making criminal threats will virtually always be charged as a felony. In deciding, he or she will examine the facts and evidence, the seriousness of the threats and their (intended) effect on the listener(s)/reader(s), and the defendant’s criminal history, among other factors.
Felony Criminal-Threat Scenarios
In early February 2009, the LA County District Attorney’s Office announced that it had charged singer Chris Brown with several felonies, including making criminal threats, that allegedly stemmed from an incident with singer Rihanna the night before the Grammy Awards. According to the DA’s Office, among other crimes, Brown had threatened to harm her if she reported him after he physically assaulted her. If convicted of all crimes, he could have been sentenced to as many as seven years in prison.
In mid-November 2019, deputies from LACSD arrested a fifteen-year-old boy after he allegedly posted mass-shooting threats on a nearby high school’s Facebook page. LACSD had been called by numerous people who reported the alleged threats. Detectives were allegedly able to track the responsible party back to the boy, who claimed the entire incident resulted from a stupid prank. He was charged with felony criminal threats and was detained at a local juvenile facility while awaiting court proceedings.
In late March 2015, rapper/actor The Game (a.k.a. Jayceon T. Taylor) allegedly got into a heated altercation with an off-duty LAPD officer who was playing on the opposing team during an amateur basketball game in Hollywood. Police alleged that Taylor intentionally fouled the officer after the officer had stolen the ball from him, struck the officer with a fist, then threatened to kill him. Three months later, LAPD arrested Taylor for allegedly making a felonious criminal threat. In early February 2017, he pled no contest to: misdemeanor criminal threat; misdemeanor battery (reduced from felony battery of a police officer); and felony grand theft. He was sentenced to thirty-six months’ formal probation, over one hundred hours of volunteer work, and more than two-dozen meetings with an anger-management therapist.
Potential Defenses If You are Charged with Making Criminal Threats
As implied above, if the actual communication permits, we would argue that the alleged terrorist threats were too ambiguous for a reasonable person to believe that it raised a legitimate threat to that person’s well-being.
Along that same line, we could conceivably make the argument that the defendant was only joking when he/she made the subject statement, or that the victim misunderstood the statement to be genuine.
Similarly, if the threat is based on the occurrence of some future event (i.e., contingent), then we would argue to a jury that the threat was too conditional to be reasonably viewed as an immediate danger, and therefore falls far short of the threshold codified in the statute.
We would also subpoena the purported victim’s social media accounts if there are indications that he or she was not actually in fear for his/her health because of the supposed threat. If we’re lucky, we would find statements that contradict those he or she previously made to the police.
Per California Penal Code §§ 422(a) P.C. & 18 P.C., and CALCRIM 1300.
Conviction Possibilities for Making Criminal Threats
You’re looking at anywhere from no jail time to twelve months if you are convicted of a misdemeanor, or sixteen to thirty-six months in the state penitentiary if you’re sentenced for a felony.
But if you aren’t incarcerated in a state facility, you may be eligible for a probationary term of three or five years, even if you serve some time in a county lock-up.
And you can expect the imposition of potentially thousands of dollars in court costs and fines, including any restitution; among additional sentencing conditions. Further, because this crime technically involves violence, don’t be surprised if you receive a decade-long or even a lifelong firearms ban, a temporary or permanent restraining order, and/or even mandatory mental-health treatment.
Finally, if you hold any type of professional license in California, you may risk losing it as a result of this type of conviction.
Per California Penal Code §§ 422(a) P.C. & 18 P.C.
Extortion (California Penal Code 518 & 523 P.C.)
When you take money or property from another by force, threat of force, or some other form of intimidation, or if you use your position or authority to do the same, you can be charged with extortion (a felony). This is true even you are legitimately owed the money, property, or other tangible asset.
The key word here is “take”, meaning that you did, in fact, receive something valuable via the threat.
To be convicted, a jury must also find that you specifically intended to cause the victim to give you the funds or property by this method.
You can also receive an extortion conviction if you merely threatened to destroy or otherwise damage the victim’s property, as opposed to the victim’s person.
The threat need not be verbal, and can be transmitted through virtually any means, including electronic or even through a third party.
The threat can also be made to a member of the victim’s family (including extended family).
Obtaining money or property from someone by threatening to reveal a potentially embarrassing secret about him or her -- whether or not it’s true – can also land you in serious legal trouble. The same goes for your threat to go to the police and inform them you committed a crime: so long as you’re looking for a pay-off, regardless of whether they actually did commit the crime, you could be convicted of extortion.
In fact, threatening to expose any information that could publicly humiliate or render contemptuous the victim for the purpose of personal financial profit could land you in prison.
Always remember that extortion, even in the absence of violence, can be charged as a strike offense under Penal Code section 667.
Finally, extortion is often charged as a federal crime when it involves either street gang or organized-crime activity. In fact, extortion serves as one of twenty-seven predicate crimes that can result in a RICO violation. RICO -- which is an acronym for the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 – is the Justice Department’s primary racketeering statute, and can result in a life sentence.
In 2004, Girls Gone Wild founder/owner Joe Francis returned home to his Hollywood Hills mansion and allegedly encountered an armed, masked man who tied him up at gunpoint and videotaped him in a compromising position. The intruder was later identified as convicted murderer Darnell Riley, who later allegedly used the tape in an attempt to extort half-a-million dollars in cash from Francis, and threatened to upload it to the internet if he refused to pay up. Francis did not know the would-be extortionist’s true identity until, ironically enough, the same woman who had initially introduced Riley into their social circle, celebrity fashionista Paris Hilton, allegedly notified the LAPD that she, too, was currently being extorted by Riley and therefore suspected that he was also Francis’ blackmailer. Following an intensive investigation, detectives arrested Riley, who ultimately pled guilty to several felonies, including extortion and robbery, and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
In late October 2019, a shoot-out erupted outside of the Royal Fresh Market in North Hollywood that police claimed resulted from a local organized-crime gang, Armenian Power, attempting to extort $100,000 from the owner over the past several weeks. The owner, who was also Armenian, allegedly exchanged dozens of rounds of semi-automatic gunfire with four of the gang members, wounding one of them in the shoulder and another in the leg. The alleged gang member hit in the shoulder was arrested after he collapsed while attempting to flee, and was charged with extortion, among other serious crimes. According to the LAPD, his three accomplices fled and escaped.
In 1954, Aladena “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno, then the Los Angeles Mafia family’s top enforcer, was arrested for attempting to extort money that had been swindled from him by two oilmen in LA. Fratianno had previously invested $5,000 with the two men, who ended up striking oil in Ventura County – a strike which would have resulted in a payout to Fratianno of several hundred thousand dollars if the oilmen had honored their agreement with them. After they reneged, they knew Fratianno would seek revenge and, therefore, went straight to the police. LAPD Captain James Hamilton despised Fratianno so immediately jumped at the opportunity to put him away. Sure enough, Fratianno called the oilmen and threatened to harm them in a recorded phone call. Fratianno was convicted of extortion and served six-and-a-half years in prison for the offense.
In early August 2014, former music mogul Marion “Suge” Knight, while in custody awaiting trial for a 2015 murder, allegedly sent text messages to Straight Outta Compton film director F. Gary Gray wherein Knight threatened his life. Knight was allegedly offended by Gray’s unflattering depiction of him in the film and seeking some sort of pay-off to rectify the situation. As a result, Knight was arrested on this new charge for felony extortion.
Possible Sentences for Convicted Extortionists
Not accounting for any sentencing enhancements, you’d be facing a two-, three-, or four-year maximum prison stay. As far as enhancements, these would include threatening a person who is over sixty-five years old or a mentally or physically disabled individual, or making the threat on behalf of a criminal organization. And as you can see from the above examples, the sentences handed down for extortion and related crimes can and typically are severe.
You would also face a maximum ten-thousand-dollar fine, in addition to repayment of all monies or property you took.
In addition, considering the fact that extortion is considered a crime of moral turpitude for most professional associations (such as the State Bar of California), if you hold such a license, you could face suspension or permanent loss once you report your conviction (as required by such organizations).
Robbery (CA Penal Code sections 211 & 213 P.C.)
Robbery is a catch-all term for a whole host of different violent crimes, ranging from car-jackings to home invasions to armed robberies, but typically it’s an offense that entails the defendant removing funds or property from the victim or in the victim’s presence by the threat or use of force, and against the victim’s will. The force would include physically restraining the victim from resisting the robbery.
Robbery is characterized in the California Penal Code as a “specific intent” crime, meaning that you intended to rob the victim at the time of the incident. For example, if you knocked out someone in a bar brawl before realizing his pockets were stuffed with cash, and you subsequently relived him of his currency, then you could not have formulated the requisite specific intent to be convicted of robbery.
Even if no one is hurt during the commission of the robbery, you could still go to prison for decades, and few other crimes come with as many sentencing enhancements as robbery. Robbery is also a strike offense under California’s Three Strikes Law.
As with all strike offenses, robbery is always charged as a felony, and can never be reduced to a misdemeanor following conviction, and, therefore, can never be expunged from your record.
Like murder, robbery comes in two degrees – first and second, depending on the egregiousness of the crimes as determined by a number of aggravating factors (see below).
In mid-December 2019, Contra Costa County (near San Francisco) prosecutors announced twenty-five years of violent-felony robberies (including robbery, grand theft, carjacking, kidnapping residents during the commission of a robbery, and burglary) against Joseph Wells and Adama Diop, stemming from a series of home invasions they allegedly committed in the local community during the preceding several months. During the commission of each of the alleged home invasions, the defendants allegedly used the threat of firearms to restrain and move residents to different rooms in the house. The two defendants each faced life sentences.
On New Year’s Eve 2019, according to the Alameda County DA’s Office, Oakland resident Javon E. Lee approached Mr. Shuo Zeng as he was typing on his laptop at a coffee shop in Oakland, then ripped it out of his hands, fled the store, and jumped into a getaway vehicle being driven by accomplice Byron Reed (also an Oakland resident). Zeng then allegedly chased after Lee and, in the midst of attempting to force his way into the getaway vehicle, ended up getting dragged until he was slammed into another vehicle and killed. A CCTV camera captured the vehicle’s license plate, which allegedly enabled police to track down the suspects. Lee was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, Reed with involuntary manslaughter, and both with felony second-degree robbery with several sentencing enhancements. Reed’s maximum sentence was not disclosed, but Lee would face life in prison if convicted of all charges.
In early January 2020, Fresno residents Ms. Candelario Alviar, Marc Rodriguez, and Roxanne Gonzales allegedly committed several armed robberies in San Mateo County, robbing people in the early morning hours. Authorities claimed that Alviar threatened to shoot one male victim with a handgun she was holding if he didn’t hand over his backpack, then escaped in a getaway car with Rodriguez and Gonzalez. Less than 30 minutes later, police alleged that Alviar struck a second male victim in the head with her gun while in the process of robbing him of his wallet. According to the San Mateo County DA’s Office, the trio were arrested on January 23rd after they used the second victim’s credit cards at various stores in Fresno, which allegedly captured them on security cameras. The gun was allegedly found in Alviar’s possession at the time of the arrest. All were charged with multiple counts of first-degree robbery with potential sentencing enhancements for use of a gun, as well as numerous other related felonies.
Viable Defenses to a Robbery Prosecution
Taking the property of another by fear or force is the first element of a robbery charge under Penal Code section 211 P.C. If you can produce persuasive evidence that the property taken was actually yours, and that you reasonably believed it was yours, then you should be able to secure an acquittal at trial or, at the very least, a highly favorable plea agreement.
The pre-UFC semi-professional street-fighting career of Huntington Beach native David “Tank” Abbott in the early ‘90s comes to mind in regard to this particular defense. Before he went fully pro, Abbott would regularly challenge other highly skilled and experienced SoCal street-fighters to bare-knuckle, no-rules matches. Before each fight, Abbott and his opponent would agree to bet each other at least $1,000 on the outcome, and that each would hold his own cash in his own pocket. Abbott would beat unconscious most of his opponents, then take their cash out of their pocket afterwards and leave. To the uninformed eye, it would appear that Abbott was robbing his opponents. If he had ever been charged, however, his eyewitnesses could support his claim that he had secured consent from the supposed victim to take that money afterwards in this manner. He would thereby not have been criminally culpable for robbery.
As with all other theft-related crimes, robbery includes the charging element of the defendant’s intent to permanently keep the property, or at least to keep it long enough where the victim loses the majority of its value or use of enjoyment. So any evidence that you give that supports a defense that you were merely temporarily borrowing the funds or property should result in an acquittal at trial.
As previously indicated, these robbery cases can often be distilled down to a simple disagreement between the parties over money, where the accused is arrested after retrieving property or funds he believed was legitimately owed to him by the accuser. As in the Tank Abbott example above, if indeed this is the situation, you’ll want to ensure your eyewitnesses are ready, willing, and able to testify on your behalf.
If this is the case, then your attorney should be as highly experienced and skilled in what we call “Pre-File Cases”, where upon our preparation and submission of a mitigation package, and a thorough review by the prosecutor, the DA will ideally agree to dismiss the case or at least significantly downgrade the charge(s) against you.
Aisde from evidence of these complete defenses, your case may come down to whether or not what you allegedly did or said to the purported victim was actually a threat, and intended to be received as such by the victim. Sometimes the victim was either not actually placed in fear of imminent harm by the defendant (meaning that he or she misconstrued what the defendant had said), or that the victim unreasonably believed the statement constituted an actual threat. This is particularly true in “he said, she said” cases where it’s literally the accuser’s word against the accused’s.
Sources: California Penal Code 211 P.C. & CALCRIM § 1600.
Sentencing on Robbery Convictions
For first-degree robbery, the judge will sentence you to three, four, six, or nine years in the state penitentiary, not including any sentencing enhancements (if, for example, you were an associate or member of an organized-crime syndicate, you used a firearm, or you have a previous strike on your record).
Second-degree robbery will get you two, three, or five years in prison – again, that’s without any enhancements.
Regardless of which degree of robbery you are convicted of, you’ll also sustain a lifelong ban on having anything do with firearms. If you’re not a legal resident here, then you’ll face automatic deportation proceedings immediately following the completion of your prison sentence. And you can expect to be forced to relinquish any professional license you have or intended to obtain. Robbery is a crime of “moral turpitude”, meaning that local, state, and federal professional associations consider it to be among a classification of crimes so heinous as to warrant particularly severe discipline. And obviously a robbery conviction comes with many other employment-related issues, as well as those relating to military service.
Some Past Violent-Crime Cases of the Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm:
Facing 2nd-strike robbery – 26 years max – result: reduced to receiving stolen property, no jail
People v. K.V.: Our client was arrested by LAPD, and charged by the DA’s Office, with robbery. Since this would have been his second strike offense (for a violent crime), and his second conviction for robbery, he was facing twenty-six years in a maximum-security prison. In addition, he was now facing a parole violation which itself could have sent him to prison for a year or more. His prior attorney was unable to get anything better than the eight-year prison term and second-strike conviction offered by the prosecutor. Throughout the prosecution, during which we relentlessly pushed and prepared for a jury trial, we kept submitting exculpatory evidence to the prosecutor, including preliminary-hearing testimony from the purported victims and the body-cam video from the arresting officers. When we met with the ADA in person, we laid out all the glaring inconsistencies in the accusers’ testimony as compared to statements they had made to the police earlier, and which appeared in the police report. We also presented additional evidence that directly called into question the accusers’ credibility. As a result, the ADA dropped the robbery charge and allowed our client to plead to a reduced charge of receipt of stolen property – a non-strike offense with zero incarceration, and without even probation.
Charged with felony witness intimidation/strike – found not guilty after jury trial
People v. C.W.: Our client was charged with felony witness intimidation (a strike offense) and was therefore facing many years in prison. The Deputy DA refused to give us a favorable deal so went all the way through jury trial, which resulted in total acquittal on witness intimidation.
Kidnapping & gang rape – life in prison – after preliminary hearing, all felonies dismissed
People v. J.C.: Our client had been accused of, arrested for, and charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and gang-raping a sixteen-year-old girl and was therefore facing a life sentence if convicted of any of those three major felonies. Our client’s five friends (three adults and two teenagers) were also arrested and charged with kidnapping, sexual assault, and gang rape of a minor, so they, too, were all facing life. We immediately took over as what was essentially the lead counsel for all the defendants, particularly because we were able to obtain iPhone footage of the alleged incident. Just as our client had claimed all along, he and his friends were innocent of all the charges, and the purported victim had completely fabricated the incident. We typically don’t show any aces up our sleeves at the preliminary hearing because we know that getting a dismissal at this stage is very difficult. But this time we knew we had irrefutable evidence that would completely destroy the prosecution’s case. And that’s exactly what we did: we played the tape at the prelim in front of the judge, the prosecutor, and the accuser (who refused to even look at it), and that was it. The DA’s Office dropped all those charges and allowed our client to accept a greatly reduced misdemeanor charge with no further jail charge. Within days, all six defendants were freed and exonerated.