It's a serious crime in California to willfully add poison to food, water, or medicine to be consumed by humans. It is also a crime to falsely and maliciously claim that something has been poisoned.
These crimes are embodied in California Penal Code 347 PC. If you are charged and convicted under this law, you could face up to 5 years in prison—and even longer if someone is hurt or killed due to your actions.
PC 347 says, “(a) (1) Every person who willfully mingles any poison or harmful substance with any food, drink, medicine, or pharmaceutical product or who willfully places any poison or harmful substance in any spring, well, reservoir, or public water supply, where the person knows or should have known that the same would be taken by any human being to their injury, is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or five years.”
“(2) Any violation of paragraph (1) involving the use of a poison or harmful substance that may cause death if ingested or that causes the infliction of great bodily injury on any person shall be punished by an additional term of three years.”
“(b) Any person who maliciously informs any other person that a poison or other harmful substance has been or will be placed in any food, drink, medicine, pharmaceutical product, or public water supply, knowing that such report is false, is guilty of a crime punishable by imprisonment in the state prison, or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed one year.”
“(c) The court may impose the maximum fine for each item tampered with in violation of subdivision (a).”
Simply put, intentionally poisoning somebody's food, drink, medicine, or water is against the law in California under Penal Code 347 PC.
Further, people can also face criminal charges if they falsely report a poisoning that did not occur. Let's review this state law further below.
What Does the Law Say?
PC 347 outlines two specific behaviors that are criminal offenses under the law. Let's discuss each separately.
Willful poisoning of food, drink, medicine, or water - PC 347a
This section of the law makes it a crime to willfully mingle "any poison or harmful substance" with food, drink, or medicine or to place "any poison or harmful substance" in a water supply that someone will consume. To convict you of this crime, prosecutors must show that:
- You added poison to food, drink, medicine, or a pharmaceutical product; OR
- You added poison to a "spring, well, reservoir, or public water supply,"; AND
- You knew, or should have known, that someone would eat, drink, or consume that item or drink from that water; AND
- You did so willfully, meaning intentionally and on purpose.
Maliciously making a false report that something has been poisoned - PC 347b
Not only is it a crime to poison food/water, but it's also a crime under this section to maliciously tell someone that their food, drink, medicine, or water has been, or will be, poisoned, knowing that the information is false.
To convict you under this section of the law, prosecutors must show that:
- You told someone that their food, drink, medicine, or water supply either was already poisoned or would be poisoned;
- You knew when you said so that the information was false; AND
- You did so maliciously, such as with deliberate wrongful intent and desire to cause the person annoyance or injury.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Jason has a vendetta against the people living on the property next to his because of a property line dispute. Jason sneaks over with two bottles of cyanide and pours them into their well water. Whether anyone drinks the water, Jason can be charged under PC 347 for poisoning the water supply.
EXAMPLE 2: Janie discovers her boyfriend has been cheating on her, so in retaliation, she feigns ignorance, prepares a nice dinner, mixes bleach into the food, and serves it to him. Janie can be charged under PC 347.
EXAMPLE 3: As part of an initiation ritual for a fraternity, Darren and his frat mates falsely tell a group of new recruits that the wine they just drank was laced with poison. Darren and his friends can be charged under PC 347.
EXAMPLE 4: Jordan hears a rumor that someone plans to poison the local water supply and warns his neighbors not to drink the water. No such conspiracy exists, and the water is found to be safe.
Jordan will NOT be charged under PC 347 because although he falsely claimed the water supply would be poisoned, he did not do so with malicious intent.
What Are the Penalties for PC 347?
A violation of PC 347 is a felony offense. The penalties for a conviction depend on the circumstances of the case, such as the following:
- For the general act of poisoning food, drink, medicine, or water: The penalty is two, four, or five years in state prison;
- If anyone dies or is seriously injured due to the poisoning: The sentence is increased by an additional three years;
- For falsely claiming something was/would be poisoned: The sentence is up to one year in county jail or state prison.
What Are the Defenses for PC 347?
Suppose you're charged with a crime under PC 347. In that case, an experienced California criminal defense attorney can employ several defense strategies to refute one or more of the essential elements of the charge discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that your actions were not willful. For example, maybe you accidentally poisoned the food/water/medicine. The charges may be dismissed if your attorney shows that you did not act willfully.
Perhaps we can argue that your actions were not malicious. Suppose you're accused of making a malicious false claim about a poisoning. In that case, if your attorney can show that you had no intent to annoy or injure the person but were sincerely trying to warn them, you may be able to avoid conviction.
Perhaps we can argue that you acted without knowledge. For example, you may have added poison to food as bait for a pest and didn't know someone was planning to eat that food. Or, you did not know the reports about a poisoning were false, and you were simply repeating the information.
If you were accused of violating Penal Code 347 PC, contact our law firm by phone or using the contact form to review the case details and legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.