The crime of assault is divided into various categories under California law. These classes include simple assault, assault on any given public official, assault with a deadly weapon, and assault with a caustic chemical. Of all these types, assaulting someone with a dangerous chemical may be the most severely punished. This is because, whereas simple assault is a misdemeanor and the other two are wobblers, assault with a harmful substance is always a felony. This means that it’s punished more severely, and you can’t plead for your charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor.
However, if you have a competent lawyer handling your case, he/she can negotiate a plea bargain so that you are convicted of a lesser offense. And in the best-case scenario, the attorney will have your charges dismissed altogether. Therefore, if you are facing assault with corrosive chemical charges, you need to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Those charged in San Diego can reach out to attorneys at the San Diego Criminal Attorney law firm. We provide legal representation to criminal charges, including assault with harmful substances. This article focuses on what the California statute says about an assault with dangerous chemicals offense.
The Lawful Definition of Assault with Caustic Chemicals or Flammable Substances
Penal Code (PC) 244 is the California law that describes assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance. It defines it as maliciously & willfully throwing, placing, or causing to be placed/thrown any corrosive/flammable substance, vitriol, or caustic element on another individual with the intent to harm their flesh or otherwise disfigure their body. A flammable substance, as per this section, refers to petroleum products, gasoline, or any other flammable liquids that have a 150 degrees Fahrenheit or lower flashpoint.
Caustic chemicals are generally defined as those elements that could corrode/burn living tissue. The law explicitly mentions caustic chemicals, flammable substances, vitriol, and corrosive substances. One form of a caustic chemical is vitriol. It explicitly refers to sulfuric acid or related compounds. The court has a broader scope to determine what does not and does constitute a dangerous chemical. Other forms of caustic chemicals include battery acid, chlorine, or other pool maintenance chemicals, different cleaning chemicals like bleach, any strong alkaline, or strong acid chemical in a mixture or by itself.
Also, PC 244 applies to flammable chemicals whose definition we provided above. Flashpoint is the lowest level of temperature whereat the vapor in a given liquid ignites. A substance ignites more easily if the flashpoint is at its lowest.
For example, the flashpoint of gasoline is about -40 degrees Fahrenheit. This means it’s highly flammable, and therefore covered under Penal Code 244. Contrarily, motor oil doesn’t ignite until it reaches 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Consequently, it isn’t a flammable liquid for PC 244 purposes.
Most flammable and caustic substances are ordinarily used in households or can be easily accessible for industrial purposes. Since the risk these chemicals pose can be lowered significantly only through regulations, the California legal system treats their uses for criminal intentions harshly.
Elements of Penal Code 244 Offense
Elements of a crime refer to those factors a prosecutor must prove beyond doubt for you to be found guilty of a particular crime. Generally, all the elements of an offense defined by law have to be present in an alleged crime for you to be criminally charged. If certain elements are there and others are missing, you could be charged with a different offense instead. Generally, a more severe crime has more elements in its definition.
For you to be convicted of PC 244, the prosecutor must show that:
- You, with malicious intention and willfully
- Threw, placed or caused to be thrown or placed
- A corrosive substance, flammable substance, vitriol or caustic chemical
- On another person
- And with intent to injure their flesh or disfigure their body
The Legal Definition of Terms
Acting ‘’willfully’’ means doing something intentionally. If someone else makes contact with and ends up being injured by a caustic chemical, but it was unintended or accidental, this doesn’t meet the meaning of assault with caustic chemicals under PC 244. Acting maliciously, on the other hand, means when you do an unlawful act purposefully or acting with the wrongful intent to defraud, disturb, injure or annoy another person.
To place or throw indicate deliberate physical actions widely defined to show any kind of physical activity which may cause harm to be realized. The most substantial element here is intent. If you maliciously and willfully intend to cause damage, the given action you performed, be it placing, throwing, pouring, etc.is not usually significant to the ruling of the court.
The concept of causing to placed or thrown can be hard for you and even others to comprehend. When explaining this, we go back to the notion that precisely how an action was accomplished doesn’t necessarily alter its lawful significance. For instance, if you filled a water bucket with acid then gave it to a third person, it’s most likely that you, and not the person you gave the bucket to, will be found guilty of PC 244. This is especially so if that other person had been fooled into the act.
Most PC 244 cases involve simple allegations of physical actions. In these cases, causation remains straightforward. However, in more complicated cases, it might be possible to create a valid legal defense based on this, as it casts doubt about malicious and willful conduct.
Legally, another person means their clothing, physical body, and their immediate personal space. The best way to understand this is by considering the scenario of a vehicle accident. Usually, in a crash, one doesn’t say “his/her car hit my car,” but instead, “he/she hit me.”
For a person to sustain bodily injury due to assault with harmful chemicals, the substance generally touches the supposed victim’s body. Bearing this in mind, this fact of the case is usually apparent, and there’s nothing to excessively worry about in this section of the law.
Again, as we mentioned earlier, intent is among the most significant elements when it comes to demonstrating in court whether the charge against you is justified or not. You may actually cause an injury to another person using dangerous chemicals but not be charged with the particular crime for different reasons, which include:
- A physical fight took place, but you weren’t aware of the caustic chemicals
- An accident occurred, an injury was sustained, but it wasn’t intentional
- The supposed victim took action, and the act led to him/her getting injured by chemicals
Also, the defendant should have had the intention to disfigure the victim’s body or injure his/her flesh. This raises several questions about whether the accused was aware of the dangerous chemical and their decision-making abilities during the commission of the crime. For instance, pouring hazardous substances on the floor to evade or distract pursuit wouldn’t meet the legal definition of PC 244 even when the prosecutor can establish that the defendant was in the commission of a distinct criminal act.
PC 244 Penalties
Unlike PC 240, simple assault, assault with dangerous chemicals is always a felony. Possible consequences may include four, three, or two years of a prison sentence and a maximum fine $10,000. As it is with several other offenses, the judge has a broader discretion to determine how long your prison time will be. Various mitigating factors may be present, which may result in a reduced sentence regardless of whether there are more charges a judge needs to consider alongside the supposed assault.
Or, rather than sentencing you to prison time, the court can sentence you to felony probation. If your sentence is probation instead of prison, you’ll serve at the maximum up to one year in a San Diego jail. But you may still be subjected to fines and may be required to follow various probation terms and conditions like:
- Having to pay victim restitution
- Meet regularly with your probation officer
- Group/individual therapy participation
- Performing community labor/community service
- Comply with the protective order, if any to not harass and keep away from the victim
Additionally, offenders confined in prison may qualify for lower sentences (“time off for good behavior) after they have served their prison time. In certain situations, you can serve as a lower sentence as a few months if you are convicted of this form of assault.
Note that PC 244 isn’t a wobbler like many other assault crimes. This means it can’t be lowered to a misdemeanor at any given point. This being said, you have a chance to plea bargain with the prosecutor so that you can be convicted of a lesser crime that could be a misdemeanor. The outcome of the plea bargaining may be reasonable based on the circumstances and specific facts of your case.
Legal Defenses against PC 244 Charges
If you are facing assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance charges, you should speak to a defense lawyer as quickly as possible. Only an experienced attorney can assess your case then determine a successful legal strategy. The attorney may have your charges dismissed or reduced for several reasons, including police misconduct, evidence tampering, etc. However, it’s also crucial to devise a solid legal defense, which will challenge the elements of your charges. Legal defenses could help you avoid a conviction for violating PC 244 laws, assault with corrosive chemicals or flammable substances. Common defenses include:
- You didn’t act maliciously or willfully
One primary requirement that the prosecutor needs to prove for you to be convicted under PC 244 is if you acted maliciously or willfully. If you harmed the supposed victim accidentally, then you won’t be convicted of PC 244 even if you were criminally negligent, or the said victim was severely injured.
- You didn’t intend to harm or disfigure the alleged victim
For one to be convicted of PC 244, he/she must have had the intent to disfigure or injure the alleged victim. This relates to but isn’t quite similar to the requirement that one acted maliciously.
- You acted in your self-defense or the defense of another person/people
Self-defense or otherwise, the defense of someone else is a legal defense you can use to fight assault with a caustic chemical charge. We have three conditions for the defense of someone else or self-defense to work as far as PC 244 charges are concerned. For it to be successful, you must have:
- Reasonably believed that you or the person you defended was in immediate danger of being injured, touched unlawfully, or being killed.
- Reasonably believed that you needed force to stop that from taking place
- The force you used was not more than what was required to stop it
- Mistaken identity
In case there’s a doubt on the question of the individual that placed or threw the harmful substances on the alleged victim, your defense attorney could use the mistaken identity defense. In an applicable case, your attorney may argue that you didn’t possess the necessary mental state to be able to have committed the crime of which you are being accused.
- It wasn’t a dangerous chemical
Since PC 244 only applies to particular chemicals, and not just any substance that can harm a person, there could be defenses that are fact-specific available to you that relate to the composition of the chemical element in your case.
Your criminal defense attorney could prove possibly through the testimony of defense experts and independent analysis that the chemical that was used on the victim doesn’t fit within the category of harmful chemicals provided under the law. If this is the case, you might be convicted of a reduced crime of battery and not for violating PC 244.
Related Offenses to Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance
Several California offenses closely relate to PC 244, assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance. Of these offenses, a few are less severe versions of assault & battery laws. Therefore, they often can be used as plea bargains to let you to:
- Serve a reduced sentence,
- Increase the possibility of a probation sentence instead of confinement
- Serve a jail sentence instead of a prison sentence,
The most commonly known alternatives to assault with a caustic chemical are:
- Simple battery (PC 242)
Although Penal Code 244 is referred to as assault, it’s, in reality, a category of the battery crime. Under PC 240, an assault offense is defined as a threat or attempt to use violence or force. On the other hand, PC 242 battery is defined as the actual application of violence or force. Therefore, as much as PC 244 is referred to as assault with a caustic chemical, it is, in reality, a kind of California battery since it requires the harmful element to touch the body of the victim. If you violate PC 242 laws, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. Its punishment includes a maximum of six months in jail and a maximum fine of $2000.
- Assault with a deadly weapon (PC 245a1)
PC 245a1 closely relates to PC 244. However, we have two key differences between these two. They are:
- PC 244 requires for the chemical to actually come into contact with the victim’s body. But, you can be convicted of assault with deadly weapon merely by trying to touch or harm another person.
- For you to be found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, you must use force that’s likely to produce substantial bodily injury. However, you can be convicted of assault with a caustic chemical even if that chemical isn’t of an amount or a type that can lead to severe harm.
PC 245a1 is a wobbler offense. By this, it means that the prosecutor can opt to charge you either with a felony or misdemeanor depending on factors like:
- Whether the deadly weapon in question was a gun
- How severely the supposed victim was hurt
- Whether the injured person in question was an officer of the law enforcement or another public official
If convicted of a felony, PC 245a1 may be punished in the same manner as PC 244, assault with a caustic chemical. However, if convicted of a misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon, the possible penalties you will face include a maximum of one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1000.
- Simple assault (PC 240)
Penal Code 240 is the law that defines the crime of assault, otherwise known as simple assault. It describes it as an unlawful attempt to inflict an injury on someone else by use of force or violence. You must have had the ability to use force on the alleged victim for you to be convicted of assault, and you must have acted willfully. Also, you must have been aware that your violent act would lead to any reasonable individual to believe it would directly and possibly lead to force being used on the other party.
Simple assault is another lesser offense to PC 244, assault with caustic chemicals. It’s a misdemeanor, and its potential consequences include summary probation, a fine not exceeding $1000, and a maximum of six months in jail.
- Mayhem & Aggravated Mayhem (PC 203 and PC 205)
Mayhem is described under PC 203 as maliciously and unlawfully doing any of these acts to someone else:
- Removing a part of their body like a limb
- Disfiguring, rendering useless, or disabling, a part of their body in a manner that’s more than temporary or slight
- Disabling or cutting their tongue
- Slitting their ear, nose, or lip
- Putting out their eye or injuring their eye in a manner that renders the eye useless for ordinary sight purposes
Aggravated mayhem, on the other hand, is defined under PC 205 as intentionally causing a person a permanent disfigurement or disability or depriving them of their organ or part of the organ or a limb.
Mayhem is a somewhat an unclear term, and it isn’t familiar to several people as other violent offenses like aggravated battery and torture are. However, it’s a severe offense, which the law penalizes it more harshly.
Mayhem is always a felony under the law. If convicted, your punishment will include a maximum fine of $10000 and two, four, or eight years in prison. Aggravated mayhem is also a felony, whose consequences upon conviction include a life sentence in California state prison with the possibility of parole.
- Battery Causing Severe Bodily injury (PC 243d)
Battery causing severe physical harm is also referred to as an aggravated battery. It occurs when a person willfully touches the other in an offensive or harmful way, and the individual that has been touched sustains a severe physical injury as a result.
PC 243d is a wobbler offense. This means the prosecuting attorney can select to file felony or misdemeanor charges depending on your criminal history and the specific facts of your case. If convicted of a misdemeanor, the penalties will include summary probation, a fine not exceeding $1000, and up to a year in jail. And if found guilty of a felony, the consequences will be felony probation, two, three, or four years in jail and a maximum fine of $10000. You will also lose the right to possess firearms if convicted of felony PC 243d.
Hire a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
As we have explained, you can face hefty fines and lengthy prison sentences if you are convicted of assault with caustic chemicals or flammable substances under PC 244. However, you can avoid all these or be convicted of a lesser offense if you work with an experienced criminal defense attorney. The attorney may be able to build a strong defense that would give you the best possible outcome for your case. Note that false allegations do happen in these types of cases, and a lawyer can help you avoid a wrongful conviction. If you live in San Diego and need help with your criminal charges, call San Diego Criminal Attorney law firm at 619-880-5474. Our lawyers will provide a free consultation to help you understand your situation as well as how they can help you out of it