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Name: People v. Culbert
Case #: B238633
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 6
Opinion Date: 08/24/2013

Conviction for making criminal threats upheld where defendant held an unloaded firearm to child’s head and pulled the trigger. Appellant was angry with his 15-year-old stepson, who he believed had stolen money. He told the minor he was “in time out” in the bathroom, then took an unloaded revolver into the bathroom and held it to the minor’s head. He said “Don’t ever lie to me” and “Don’t you ever call me that again” and pulled the trigger. The minor knew appellant’s guns were usually loaded, and was terrified. Appellant then hugged the minor and told him to “let that be a lesson.” The jury convicted him of one count of criminal threats in violation of Penal Code section 422, and other offenses involving the firearm. On appeal, appellant argued that there was no criminal threat because his statements contained no explicit or implicit threat to shoot or kill the minor. The appellate court rejected the argument, finding few objects are as inherently threatening as a firearm when it is pressed to one’s head. The only rational inference is that appellant was threatening to harm the minor if he ever lied again or called appellant names; an explicit verbal threat was not necessary. There was substantial evidence supporting the jury’s finding that appellant threatened to commit a crime that would result in death or great bodily injury. Further, there was substantial evidence that the minor suffered sustained fear.

The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted evidence of appellant’s 1999 conviction for making a criminal threat against his ex-wife. Appellant argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence of his prior conviction for violating section 422 because the prior offense occurred more than 10 years ago and its potential for undue prejudice substantially outweighed its probative value. The appellate court rejected this argument. The prior offense had probative value and there was no possibility the prior incident would be confused with the charged offense. As a result, the trial court had discretion to admit the evidence.