Assault with Caustic Chemicals or Flammable Substances

Assault in California is a serious offense. It is even more serious when it is committed using caustic chemicals or flammable substances. The use of such substances can cause permanent injuries to the victim among other effects. The state’s law, therefore, recognizes this offense as a felony, punishable by lengthy confinements and hefty fines. If you are charged with this offense, working closely with LA Criminal Defense Attorney would be your best option, especially if you are within Los Angeles, CA. This article covers every aspect of the offense such as elements of the crime, penalties, and related offenses. We have also analyzed possible defense strategies you can use to avoid conviction of the crime or get reduced charges.

Legal Definition of Assault with Caustic Chemicals or Flammable Substances

Penal Code 244 of California deals with crimes of assault using caustic chemicals and flammable substances. It defines the crime of assault with caustic chemicals or flammable substances as an act of placing or throwing any corrosive substance, caustic chemical, or flammable substance onto another person maliciously. You are viewed to have committed the crime if you did it willfully with a view of injuring the individual's flesh or to cause disfiguration on his or her body. Sometimes, you may not be the one who threw or placed the substance on the victim but you played a role in making another person do it. In such a case, you are also liable to this charge.

With respect to PC 244, caustic chemical refers to any substance that can corrode the body tissues or cause severe burns on a person’s body. These effects in most cases are long-lasting.  They also result in irritation or permanent damage to internal organs like eyes. In general, California recognizes the following substances as caustic chemicals:

  • A mixture or pure form of strong acids or strong bases,
  • Acids used in batteries such as sulfuric acids and hydrochloric acids,
  • Cleaning agents including bleaches and detergents,
  • Pool maintenance chemicals such as chlorine, and

Among the caustic substances, the vitriol has been used in most assault-related cases. The substance is sulfuric acid specifically used in industries to manufacture fertilizers, dyes drugs, explosives among other substances.

Flammable substance, on the other hand, refers to substances that have a flashpoint of not more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit. ‘Flashpoint’ refers to the lowest temperature possible through which a substance can get ignited if the temperature is reached. For instance, gasoline has the lowest flashpoint of -40 degrees Fahrenheit, thus, becoming a highly flammable liquid.

From the above legal definition of assault with caustic chemicals or flammable substance, the prosecution must confirm that:

You placed, threw or caused someone to throw or place corrosive, caustic chemical, or flammable substance on another person; willfully and/or maliciously; with an intent to disfigure the body or injure the tissues of the victim.

Legally, ‘willfully’ implies that you did something purposefully, and ‘maliciously’ if you purposely do or engage in a wrong act. Malice also refers to acting unlawfully with intent or a view of causing a disturbance, annoyance, injuries or fraud to another person.

Threw/placed…; imply physical and intentional activity carried out towards another person that may result in harming of the victim. For example, pouring, splashing and throwing among others

On another person /on the person of another refers to not only the person’s body but also the clothing and anything within his or her immediate reach. 

… With an intent; this element is crucial in assault-related cases. It shows that you harmed the alleged victim knowingly and that you had an objective to do so. In other words, the act was not accidental.

What are the Penalties for PC 244?

PC 244 is a felony. This makes it different from simple assault which can be treated as a misdemeanor. Consequently, the penalties for the offense can include a maximum of 10,000 dollars fine, two, three or four years term in the state prison, and/or felony probation.

Felony probation is an alternative to the prison term and is offered only based on the judge’s discretion. However, if you are sentenced to the felony probation, you will still be required to serve a maximum of one year in county jail, and to pay some fines to the court. In addition, you will be required to observe the following probation conditions:

  • Participate in the community work;
  • Pay or meet the victim’s restitution fees;
  • Meet on a regular basis with the probation officer;
  • Engage in a group or individual therapies; and
  • Comply with the protective orders. That is, refraining from harassing the victim.

The Possible Legal Defenses for PC 244

There are a variety of defense strategies which can work better in protecting you against PC 244 charges. For the strategies to be effective, you will require to work closely with an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you maneuver through legal jargon. specifically, the attorney can argue that;

  1. You did not act willfully or maliciously

One of the key element that can result in your conviction for violating PC 244 is the presence of malice or will during the incident. Therefore, if you can argue that you harmed the alleged victim accidentally, you should be acquitted. You can use the strategy even if the victim suffered severe injuries or you acted in a way that is viewed as criminal negligence.

  1. You did not have an intention to disfigure or injure the alleged victim

You may have disfigured or injured the victim, but if you had no intention to do so, the law should acquit you. For example, you can argue that although there was a confrontation, you were never aware of the chemical. You may also claim that the victim, during the confrontation, did an act that caused him or her to be injured or harmed by the caustic substance. Though related to ‘malice’, the intent is a bit different element and basically implies an informed need to cause harm. Malice specifically implies that the act was driven by ill motives.

To illustrate this defense, let’s look at an example;

You are engaged in a fight with your workmate. In the process, you notice a bucket containing some liquid. You pick it up and pour the contents on the person. Unfortunately, he gets severely burned.

In this scenario;

You only thought that the contents of the bucket was just water. In reality, it was strong sulfuric acid which another person was using to clean machines. Therefore, during the prosecution, it will be true that you acted maliciously and willfully. But because you did not know that the content was a corrosive substance, you will not be viewed as having acted with intentions to disfigure or cause injury. Consequently, your attorney will convince the prosecution to view the crime as a battery rather than a violation of PC 244. The attorney then will build a defense from this perspective.

  1. You were defending yourself or others

Citing personal defense or defense to others against danger is another effective defense strategy against PC 244 violation. However, the claim must be substantiated or backed up by some conditions, which include the fact that:

  • You reasonably believed that the victim was likely going to touch you unlawfully, harm, injure or even kill you,
  • You reasonably believed that to prevent the victim from doing such acts, the use of force was required, and
  • That force alone could not succeed unless you sought for another alternative.
  1. The substance you threw on the person was neither caustic chemical nor flammable substance

PC 244 demands that for you to be convicted, the substance should be one of those classified as caustic or flammable substances. Therefore, if you used any other substances apart from the ones defined in the law, you should not be convicted. For example, during a heated argument, you splashed juice over the face of another person. In this case, you are not liable to PC 244 charges because the juice is not a caustic chemical and is not flammable. However you still may be charged with other offenses that are less severe.

  1. The flammable or caustic chemical did not come into contact with the victim

That is, though you threw the hazardous chemicals towards the alleged victim, it fortunately missed or did not touch him or her. PC 244 will not apply because for it to hold, the substances must have come into contact with the victim.

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Offenses Related to PC 244 Offense

California law recognizes various offense which can be prosecuted alongside PC 244 or as an alternative to the charge. As a suspect for this crime (PC 244), you should know them as they may provide a better alternative to your charge, specifically, if you plead for plea bargain. Also, some charges are a bit lenient; for instance, instead of prison, some may subject you to jail terms. Others may suggest probation rather that confinement.  Among the charges are:

PEN 240; Assault

PEN 240 assault is also termed as simple assault. It is defined as the act, or attempt to cause or commit injury to another person. To be convicted of the offense, the prosecution needs to prove that;

  • You did something that in a way, was likely to cause or result to your use of force towards another person;
  • You did the act willfully;
  • You were aware that your actions will lead to your using of force against another person; and
  • While acting, you had that ability to apply force.

Assault in California is treated as a misdemeanor. It is penalized by a maximum of six month’s term in county jail and a maximum of 1000 dollars court fines. The fines serve as an alternative to court or as an additional penalty.

Unlike PC 244, the crime of assault suffices even if your behavior did not cause harm to the alleged victim. Simply put, it is not a must that your actions caused injuries to the victim, so long as the action seemed likely to cause harm. As a result, many people tend to find themselves accused of this offense. Fortunately, there are some effective legal defenses which you can use to defend yourself against the charges. Some of them include:

  • You were acting to defend yourself or another person;
  • You are a victim of wrongful accusations;
  • You were unable to inflict violence or force on the alleged victim;
  • You did not intend to hurt the victim; or
  • You did not willfully hurt the alleged victim.

PC 240; Simple Battery

The crime of battery is described by this legal section as any unlawful and willful use of violence or force on another person. Most often, people associate battery with severe beatings; however, the law can view you as guilty of battery even if you did not injure or hurt the alleged victim, as long as you touched or handled the victim in a way that is deemed offensive. 

This offense in California is viewed as a misdemeanor. It is punishable by court fines not exceeding 2000 dollars and a maximum of six months county jail term. The penalties for the offense will, however, be different if you battered a public servant like a police officer, EMT, or firefighter. Specifically, you will be charged with ‘battery on police or peace officer’ if the victim is any of the above officials. The offense, unlike a simple battery, is treated as wobbler implying that it can be viewed as a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, the penalties will include a maximum of one year in county jail, and court fines not exceeding 2000 dollars.

Felony battery on a police officer will result in a county jail term of 16 months, 2 or 3 years. In addition or as an alternative, you will be fined a maximum of 10,000 dollars.

Your attorney can use the following arguments in your defense:

  • You were defending yourself or another person(s);
  • Your actions were within your rights to discipline, especially if the victim is your child;
  • You did not engage in the alleged act willfully.

Pc 243 (d); Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury

The offense is also called an aggravated battery. You are convicted of committing the offense if you touch another person willfully in a harmful or offensive manner. And the person whom you touched suffers severe bodily injuries resulting from your touch. With respect to this section, any physical contact or touching of the alleged victim including the clothes alone is a crime of battery. You also face the charges even if the touch was slight, as long as it caused the other person severe injuries.

Willfully implies that you touched the person purposely or willingly. This applies even if you did not intend to hurt him or her, break the law or gain some advantages/benefit over the person. Harmful or offensive manner implies touches that are disrespectful, rude, angry or violent. Battery qualifies as an aggravated charge if it has the said features.

Aggravated battery charges are wobblers in California. As such, a prosecutor can decide to file a felony or misdemeanor charges against you. The choice generally depends on the facts surrounding your case and your criminal history.

If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties will include fines not exceeding 1000 dollars, a county jail term for a maximum of one year, and a misdemeanor (summary) probation. Summary probation often serves as an alternative to the jail term and usually last for either one or three years. In some cases, it can even last for five years. During the probation period, you are required to adhere to some conditions which include paying the restitution or medical cost to the alleged victim, attending counseling programs, and engaging in community work.

As a felony, the penalties for aggravated battery include fines not exceeding 10000 dollars, a county jail term of 2, 3 or 4 years. You can also be subjected to felony probation (formal probation). Like summary probation, formal probation has some conditions which you must adhere to. For instance, you are expected to participate in some county jail work, report regularly to the probation officer, and pay the victims restitution fees. It lasts for three to five years.

Your attorney can defend you against PC 243(d) by claiming that;

  • You were defending yourself or another person. For the strategy to hold, some conditions must be true. For instance, you must show that you or the person you were defending was in actual danger of being touched or harmed by the alleged victim. You must also show that you had a reasonably believe that to save yourself or another person from danger, the force was needed. And that, the force you applied was just enough for defense and not to harm the other person;
  • The incident was accidental, that is, you did not intend to harm or injure the person;
  • The injuries, although present, were not that serious; as such, you should not be convicted of aggravated battery.

PEN 205; Mayhem and Aggravated Mayhem

The law of California defines the crime of mayhem as doing any of the following to an individual

  • Rendering useless any part of his/her body;
  • Cutting/dismantling his or her tongue;
  • Removing or depriving him or her any part of his or her body, for example, limbs;
  • Slitting his or her lips, ear or nose.

You are accused of committing aggravated mayhem if you intentionally cause permanent disfiguration or disabilities on a person. You also face the charges if you deprive or remove any part of the person body such as limbs.

PC 205 is treated as a felony with possible penalties of 2, 4 or 8 years as a state prison term. You will also be required to pay fines not exceeding 10,000 dollars. In some cases, aggravated mayhem can land you to a life sentence in state prison. Upon terminating your prison term, you can also be subjected to parole. During parole, you will be expected to adhere to a number of conditions, some of which include:

  • Agreeing or consenting to be searched, investigated or seized with or without a warrant;
  • Accepting to confine yourself within certain limits of the county;
  • Agreeing/accepting to register as an offender (for mayhem);
  • You should also agree to be barred from associating with some people, accessing the internet or associating yourself with particular weapons.

To protect you against pc 205, your attorney can argue that you were falsely accused, you were defending yourself or the act was accidental in that you did not intend to do such harms to the alleged victim.

PEN 245 (a) (1); Assault with a Deadly Weapon

The offense is described as the act of causing injuries on another person that is engineered using a deadly weapon. It may also involve the use of substantial force enough to cause significant bodily injuries. For the purpose of this section, deadly weapons may include a gun, knife, or any object that can act as a weapon. PC 245 (a) (1) is a wobbler offense, thus, can be treated as a misdemeanor or a felony. The choice often depends on the facts surrounding the offense. As a misdemeanor, the penalties include one year in county jail and fines not exceeding 1000 dollars. As a felony, common penalties include two, three or four year’s confinement in state prison.

The exact punishment for 245(a) (1) will depend on:

  • The type of the instruments or weapon that you used to commit the offense;
  • The extent of injuries sustained by the alleged victim;
  • Who exactly the victim was. Penalties are a bit harsher if the victim was a protected person, firefighter or law enforcing officer.

Penalties for assault with deadly weapons are administered regardless of whether the victim was injured or not, a feature that differentiates it from crimes like a battery. Therefore, you are supposed to fight such charges as much as you can. Among the legal defense strategies you can use include:

  • Arguing that you were wrongfully accused;
  • You committed the offense accidentally, that is, you had no intent to assault using a deadly weapon;
  • You were defending yourself or other people; and
  • You did not involve or use any weapon or excess force likely to cause significant bodily injuries.

If you are being charged with a crime feel free to contact our Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer for a free consultation.