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Weapons of Mass Destruction

Penal Code 11418 PC - Weapons of Mass Destruction Law

The state of California has strict laws against possessing, transporting, or using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) defined under Penal Code 11417 PC. Weapons of mass destruction include chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons that can cause death or serious bodily injury to many people.

This statute makes it a crime for someone to possess, develop, produce, transfer, retain, manufacture, or acquire any weapon of mass destruction.

Weapons of Mass Destruction - Penal Code 11418 PC
Penal Code 11418 PC makes it a felony crime to possess or produce a weapon of mass destruction.

PC 11418 says, “anyone, without lawful authority, who possesses, develops, manufactures, produces, transfers, acquires, or retains any weapon of mass destruction, will be punished by imprisonment of 4, 8, or 12 years.”

PC 11418 (b)(1) says, “anyone who uses or directly employs against another person a weapon of mass destruction in a form that could cause widespread, disabling illness or injury in human beings will be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life.”

PC 11418(c) says, “anyone who uses a weapon of mass destruction in a form that could cause widespread and significant damage to public natural resources, such as coastal waterways and beaches, public parkland, surface waters, ground water, and wildlife, will be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for three, four, or six years.”

The related crimes include Penal Code 18710 PC possession of a destructive device and Penal Code 30600 PC assault weapons and rifles law.

Any violation of California's WMD law is a felony offense punishable by prison time of up to 12 years and massive fines if you are convicted. In this article by our California criminal defense attorneys, we will examine this law more closely below.

Overview of California's WMD Law

As noted, the criminalization of weapons of mass destruction in California is embodied in Penal Code 11418 PC. Under this law, WMD crimes effectively fall into two categories: possession of WMD and use of WMD.


We're using "possession" here as a broad term describing many activities involving WMD that are considered criminal. Specifically, PC 11418(a) says anyone who "possesses, develops, manufactures, produces, transfers, acquires, or retains" a weapon of mass destruction is committing a crime.


Deploying a WMD in California for any reason is a severe offense. PC 11418 details specific instances and penalties for using WMD. These include:

  • Causing widespread illness or death among people,
  • Damaging the food and water supply,
  • Damaging crops, seeds, or livestock,
  • Damaging natural resources.

What Weapons Are Categorized as WMD?

The types of weapons considered weapons of mass destruction are identified in California's Penal Code 11417 PC. These include:

  • Chemical agents used as weapons,
  • Biological weapons and restricted biological agents,
  • Radiological agents,
  • Nuclear agents,
  • Any vehicle, vessel, or aircraft used as a weapon.

What Are Some Examples of WMD Crime?

EXAMPLE 1: Cedric gets involved in transporting unauthorized biological agents on the black market. While he would never think of deploying a WMD himself, he is guilty of WMD charges because he is trafficking illegal substances that could be used as WMDs.

EXAMPLE 2: Tom acquires a chemical weapon and takes it out to the desert to detonate it. Even though he may think he's taken it far enough away from people for it not to hurt anyone, he is guilty of WMD crimes because the chemical agents may damage natural resources in the desert.

What Are the Penalties for WMD?

The penalties for WMD crimes in California are typically severe and may vary depending on the weapon type involved and the offense's severity. But in general, possession or use of a WMD is a felony punishable by anywhere from a few years up to life in prison. Some examples:

  • Any possession of WMD (e.g., acquiring, transferring, retaining, etc.) can result in up to 12 years in prison and fines up to $250,000;
  • Using a WMD against crops, livestock, natural resources, food supply, etc., can result in up to 12 years in prison and fines up to $100,000;
  • Using a WMD that causes widespread injury and illness is punishable by life in prison. If there are fatalities, it's life in prison without parole.

In some cases of WMD possession, a judge may waive the prison sentence and impose felony probation as an alternative.

What Are the Common Legal Defenses?

There are a few possible defenses to WMD charges in California. These are discussed below.

Perhaps you didn't know the weapon was a WMD. For example, if you were given a package without knowing what was inside and it turned out to be a biological agent, you might have a defense against WMD charges.

Perhaps you were lawfully authorized to possess WMD. Certain people have lawful authority to handle weapons of mass destruction. These may include certain elected officials and employees with clearance from certain federal or state agencies. If you have legal authority on these grounds, you cannot be convicted of WMD crimes.

Defense for weapons of mass destruction charges
Contact our criminal attorneys for help.

Perhaps the weapon was not a WMD. To be convicted of WMD crimes, the prosecution must prove that the weapon in question qualifies as a WMD under California law. If they cannot do this, you should not be convicted of this crime, although you might be charged with other crimes if other laws were broken.

Perhaps there was an unlawful search and seizure. For the police to search you or your property, they need a warrant or probable cause. If the police violate your constitutional rights in this way, any evidence they find may be thrown out, and you may be able to get the charges against you dismissed.

In other words, law enforcement can't search or take property without a valid search warrant. If there was no warrant, they must have a valid legal excuse for not having one. Perhaps we can convince the court to exclude the evidence from being used against you in a court of law.

Suppose you or a family was accused of violating any weapons of mass destruction law? In that case, you need to remain silent and contact our criminal defense law firm to discuss the case and legal options moving forward.

Perhaps we can negotiate with the District Attorney's Office for lesser charges or get the case dropped. Maybe through prefiling negotiations with law enforcement and the prosecution, we can persuade them not to file formal criminal charges before the first court date (DA reject).

The law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP has two office locations in Los Angeles County, California. We provide legal representation across the state. You can contact us for a case consultation by phone or use the contact form.

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