Negligent Discharge of a Firearm - California Penal Code Section 246.3
Negligent discharge of a firearm is covered under California Penal Code Section 246.3. In basic terms, it criminalizes the act of intentionally discharging a firearm with gross negligence that might result in injury or death to another person. PC 246.3 is known as a “wobbler” offense, meaning the Los Angeles County prosecutor has the discretion to file the case as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. Their decision on how to file a negligent discharge case will depend on the specific details of the case and your criminal history. It should be noted the discharge of the firearm must be willful and intentional. This means you can’t be guilty of negligent discharge of a firearm under Penal Code 246.3 if the discharge of your weapon was an accident. A common example in Los Angeles County includes situations where people will shoot their firearm in the air on New Year’s Eve at a location where it’s possible to injure someone. Even though nobody is injured, you could still face charges for shooting in a negligent manner. PC 246.3 not only includes a firearm, but also includes discharging a BB gun or pellet gun that fires a projectile using air, or gas pressure, and spring action. However, the legal penalties for firing these type weapons are always a misdemeanor offense. Again, the key here for facing criminal charges for negligent discharges of a firearm is intent. This means your intent for firing a weapon has to be willful and you knew the weapon was loaded. It’s not uncommon in Los Angeles County for a tragic event to occur after somebody picks up a gun believing it’s not loaded. Depending on the circumstances, the legal penalties can be harsh. For example, a simple misdemeanor conviction for violating California Penal Code Section 246.3, negligent discharge of a firearm, can carry a sentence of up to one year in a Los Angeles County jail. If you have been accused of negligently discharging a firearm, contact the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin LLP. Let our attorneys review the specific details to plan a strategy to defend you. Now that we have covered a general overview of a negligent discharge of a firearm offense, let’s take a closer look at the legal definition, penalties, and potential legal defenses below.
California Penal Code Section 246.3 provides the legal definition of the crime of negligent discharge of a firearm as follows:
(a) Anyone who willfully discharges a firearm or BB device in a grossly negligent manner which might result in an injury or death to another person shall be punished for up to one year imprisonment in the county jail.
The term “willfully” means it was on purpose and you intentionally fired the weapon. It also includes knowledge that the gun was loaded. Grossly negligent means more than just ordinary negligence, which is described as a lapse in judgment. Gross negligence means your conduct was so reckless that reasonable people would have known or recognize that the behavior was likely to produce serious bodily injury or even death. It means you had a conscious disregard for the safety of other people. For example, if you shoot a firearm in the air at an outdoor event where there are hundreds of other people, your conduct clearly shows you had no regard for the safety of the other people who were attending the same event. The legal definition above also includes language that your negligent conduct had the likelihood of causing injury or death. It’s important to note that the Los Angeles County prosecutor has to be able to show your discharging of the weapon could have resulted in injury or death. Obviously, if you were shooting the weapon in an area with no other people around, then you would not be in violation of Penal Code 246.3. However, let’s say you were discharging your weapon in the air at your apartment complex where many others live, then there is a chance your conduct could possibly cause injury or death, even if the chances are remote. If you need more information about the negligent discharge of a firearm law, call our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys.
Elements of the Crime
In order for the Los Angeles County prosecutor to obtain a conviction for negligent discharge of a firearm in violation of California Penal Code Section 246.3, they must be able to prove each and every "element of the crime" below:
- You intentionally fired a weapon or a BB device
- You shot the weapon with gross negligence, and
- Your shooting of the weapon could have resulted in injury or death
Under California law, a firearm is any device that is designed to be used as a weapon where a projectile is discharged through the barrel by the force of an explosion. A BB device is an instrument that can expel a projectile using air or gas pressure, or spring action. For example, a pellet gun.
As stated above, if you were only simply negligent in discharging a firearm, you can't be convicted of negligent discharge of a firearm. It must be more than ordinary negligence. In order to act with gross negligence, the prosecutor has to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, the following elements of the crime:
- You acted in such a reckless manner it created a high risk of great bodily injury or death, and;
- Any reasonable person would have known that acting in this manner would create such a high risk
In simple terms, it’s very clear from the elements of the crime that “gross negligence” is more than just a simple mistake or just being careless. It means your actions in discharging the weapon were much different that what any ordinary careful person would do under similar circumstances. To take it a step further, it also means you conduct clearly showed you had no regard for the safety of the other people around you, or you simply didn’t care about the consequences of your actions. For additional information, contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at our law firm.
California Penal Code Section 246 - Shooting at inhabited dwelling or occupied car
California Penal Code Section 417 – Brandishing a weapon
California Penal Code Section 29800 – Felon with a firearm
California Penal Code Section 25850 – Carrying loaded firearm in public place
In you are convicted of negligent discharge of firearm in violation of California Penal Code Section 246.3, the legal penalties will depend on whether the charges filed by the Los Angeles County prosecutor proceeds as a misdemeanor or a felony offense. As stated above, how the prosecutor files the case will typically depend on the specific allegations and you criminal history. The legal penalties for misdemeanor conviction of negligent discharge of a firearm include:
- Up to one year in a Los Angeles County jail
- A fine up to $1,000
- Misdemeanor summary probation
If you are convicted of negligent discharge of a firearm as a felony offense, the legal penalties include:
- Up to three years in a Los Angeles County jail
- A fine up to $10,000
- Formal felony probation
In addition to the legal penalties listed above, California law also allows for sentencing enhancements. For example, you could face a gang sentencing enhancement under California Penal Code Section 186.22. This enhancement would occur if it can be shown the discharge of the firearm was done in connection with any type of gang-related activity. This gang sentencing enhancement could lead to an additional 4 years in prison. A felony conviction for negligent discharge of a firearm would also be considered a strike under California’s three strikes law. Finally, if you are not a legal citizen of the United States, a conviction could have immigration consequences and lead to deportation.
In spite of the serious nature and potentially harsh legal consequences of a conviction for negligent discharge of a firearm, it’s very important to note they you are innocent until proven guilty. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers can use a variety of proven defense strategies to defend you. Every case is unique and first requires a thorough examination of the specific facts and circumstances in order to plan a strong defense. Some of the most common legal defense against California Penal Code Section 246.3, negligent discharge of a firearm includes the following:
Self defense – In some cases, our lawyers may be able to successfully argue you were acting in self defense, or defense of another person. Under California law, you are acting in self defense if you reasonable believed you or another person were in imminent danger of suffering serious bodily injury, and you had a reasonable belief to needed to discharge the firearm to defend yourself, and you didn’t use any more force than necessary.
Belief firearm was not loaded – As stated above, it has to be proven you intentionally fired the firearm. This also means you had to know the firearm was loaded. In certain cases, our criminal attorneys may be able cast some reasonable doubt that you did not know it was loaded. You can’t be guilty of violating California Penal Code Section 246.3, negligent discharge of a firearm, it you believed it was unloaded. Likewise, we may be able to argue the discharge of the firearm was an accident.
No danger of injury or death – As we covered in the elements of the crime, in order to be convicted of negligent discharge of a firearm, the prosecutor has to prove that your shooting of the weapon could have resulted in injury or death. In certain cases, our lawyers might be able to prove there was no danger. Clearly, the location and circumstances where the weapon was discharged would be the most significant factor. The Los Angeles County prosecutor has the burden of proof on all the elements of the crime.
Contact our Los Angeles Criminal Lawyers
If you have been accused of negligent discharges of a firearm under California Penal Code Section 246.3, call the top-rated Los Angeles criminal defense law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP. We have a history of success and will work aggressively to obtain the best possible outcome on your case. Contact our office at 877-781-1570.
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