Penal Code 76 PC | Threatening Public Officials

Penal Code 76 PC | Threatening Public Officials

Penal Code 76 PC is the California law that makes it a crime to threten public officials, judges, and public employees. This law prohibits making threats that would make a reasonable person fear violence or death. Let’s break down what is and isn’t allowed under this law, penalties, and legal defenses.

What is Considered an Illegal Threat?

For a threat to be illegal under PC 76, it must communicate an intent to injure or kill someone. This includes threats made:

  • In writing – like in a letter, email, text, or social media
  • Verballly – in person or over the phone
  • Through gestures – like making a gun symbol with your hand

It does’nt matter if you actually intend to carry out the threat. Just making it is enough to break the law. Threats can be:

  • Direct – saying “I’m going to kill you” to the victim
  • Conditional – “If you don’t do this, I will hurt you”
  • Veiled – making a vague threat that implies violence

The threat also has to be credible enough to put a reasonable person in fear. That means it can’t just be random venting or joking around. Specific threats are taken more seriously than general ones. Like saying “I’ll bomb city hall” versus “I hate the mayor”.

Who Does This Law Protect?

PC 76 prohibits threats against these public officials, employees, and their families:

  • Judges, jurors, and court personnel
  • Public officials – like mayors, city council, etc.
  • Police, firefighters, and EMTs
  • Teachers, principals, and school staff
  • Social workers and child protective services

It also covers threats against public property, like government buildings, schools, police cars, etc. Threatening a private citizen is covered under Penal Code 422 PC.

Penalties for Violating PC 76

Breaking this law is prosecuted as a felony in California. Potential penalties include:

  • 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in county jail
  • Up to $10,000 in fines
  • 3-5 years of formal probation

Penalties get harsher if you have a previous conviction under this law. Or if the threat involves a weapon, you could face additional charges. Making terrorist threats against public officials under PC 422.77 can lead to 6-12 years in prison.

Legal Defenses

Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help get charges reduced or dismissed. Here are some common defenses in PC 76 cases:

  • False accusations – Someone falsely reported you made threats out of anger, revenge, mental illness etc. Your lawyer can challenge credibility.
  • Mistaken identity – You were mistaken for the real person who made the threats.
  • No criminal intent – You had no intent to terrorize or harm anyone, it was just a misunderstanding.
  • First Amendment – Your statements were hyperbolic political speech protected under the First Amendment.
  • Mental health issues – You have a mental disorder that impacted your ability to understand the nature of the threats.

An experienced lawyer can also negotiate with prosecutors for reduced charges or penalties. Diversion programs may be available for first-time offenders.

How Can I Avoid Violating PC 76?

To avoid running afoul of this law:

  • Don’t make any threatening statements, even jokingly or when angry.
  • Avoid gestures that could be interpreted as threats.
  • Don’t post threats on social media, even under a fake name.
  • If charged, don’t try to contact the victim to apologize or explain.
  • Hire an attorney to protect your rights.

Penal Code 76 PC is meant to protect public officials from threats that could impact their duties. But even venting your anger the wrong way could land you in legal jeopardy. Speak with a lawyer if you are under investigation or charged with threatening public officials. An experienced criminal defense attorney can safeguard your rights.


California Penal Code 76 PC
California Penal Code 422 PC
Shouse California Law Group