The everyday use of caustic chemicals and flammable substances is a practice that significantly focuses on matters to do with the workings of given areas of a property or home. But when these chemicals are used to try and hurt someone, their use becomes assault, an offense that can result in criminal consequences. Simply assaulting someone is a severe crime in California as it is. Assault someone with a flammable substance/caustic chemical, and the penalties are even harsher. Using chemicals of this nature on a person can make them sustain permanent injuries plus other effects; that is why the crime is penalized more severely.
If accused of assaulting someone with a caustic chemical, working closely with an experienced criminal defense lawyer would be your best option. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have helped many clients accused of assaulting others with a caustic chemical in Anaheim obtain the best possible outcome for their case. We will review your case facts, conduct independent investigations, and mount the strongest possible defense strategy. The sooner you come to us, the more time we will have to prepare for your case. Do not waste any more time, and call us now for a free, initial consultation.
Defining the Crime
Penal Code Section 244 PC of California State deals with the crime of assaulting someone using a flammable substance or caustic chemical. It describes this criminal offense as maliciously throwing/placing any corrosive matter onto another individual. The law considers you to have perpetrated the criminal offense if you acted willfully, aiming to hurt the victim’s flesh or cause disfigurement on their body. At times, you might not have thrown/placed the matter on the involved victim personally, but you contributed to making someone else do it. If so, you are also criminally liable for this crime.
As far as PC 244 is concerned, a caustic substance/chemical is any matter that can wear down or corrode tissues in the body or inflict severe burns upon someone’s body. In many cases, these effects are long-lasting or permanent. They additionally lead to permanent damage or irritation to internal body organs such as the eyes. Generally, California recognizes these chemicals as caustic:
Pure form or a mixture of strong bases or strong acids
Acids found in batteries, like hydrochloric acids and sulfuric acids
Chemicals used for pool maintenance like chlorine
Cleaning agents such as detergents and bleaches
Most assault-related charges involve the throwing/placing of Vitriol, a type of sulfuric acid used in various industries to make explosives, dyes, drugs, fertilizers, and other products. A flammable substance is a substance with a flashpoint that is not over 150℉. ‘Flashpoint’ is the lowest possible temperature at which matter can be ignited. For example, gasoline’s flashpoint is -40℉, meaning 40℉ is the lowest possible temperature at which gasoline can be ignited. This makes gasoline highly flammable.
From the legal description of assaulting someone with a flammable substance/caustic chemical we have provided above, the prosecuting attorney must prove the following for a conviction:
You threw/placed/poured or made someone throw/place/pour flammable substance or caustic/corrosive chemical on someone else;
Maliciously or willfully;
Aiming to disfigure their body or damage their tissues
In legal terms, ‘willfully’ means you did the act purposely. ‘Maliciously,’ on the contrary, is if you deliberately engage in or do a wrongful deed. Malice can also refer to acting illegally with the intent of causing annoyance, injuries, disturbance, or fraud upon someone else. ‘Threw/placed’ implies physical and deliberate activity performed towards another party that may lead to them becoming hurt. For instance, splashing, hurling, and pouring, among others. ‘On someone else/on the person of another’ means the individual’s body, clothing, and anything within their immediate reach. ‘With intent’ is a crucial element in PC 244 violation charges. It shows you hurt the supposed victim consciously and had the objective of doing so. Put otherwise; your action was not by accident.
The Consequences After a Conviction
PC 244 violation is a straight felony. This fact differentiates this crime from PC 240 assault which the prosecutor can charge as a misdemeanor. Consequently, if the judge finds you guilty of assaulting someone with a corrosive or flammable substance, you can go to prison for a period not exceeding four years or be sentenced to formal probation. You could also be required to pay a court fine of ten thousand dollars.
Felony or formal probation is an alternative sentencing option to incarceration in state prison, and it is only the judge who has the discretion to impose it. But if the judge sentences you to formal probation, they will still require you to serve a jail sentence of a year and pay some court fines. Additionally, they will require you to comply with these probation conditions:
Obey the terms of the protective/restraining order; for instance, stop harassing/threatening the victim or contacting them, or you should keep a specified distance from them.
Enroll in individual/group therapies
Meet regularly with your probation officer
Pay victim restitution
Do community service/work
It is worth noting that PC Section 244 violation being a straight felony, the prosecutor cannot reduce it to a misdemeanor crime. That said, we have plea bargaining opportunities with the prosecuting attorney so that a lesser included crime, including a misdemeanor, can be a realistic outcome dependent on the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the case.
Crimes Related to a PC 244 Violation
Various offenses are closely related to a PC 244 violation. Some of these crimes are lenient versions of the state’s battery and assault laws. As a result, they are often used as a plea deal to let the accused:
Serve a jail sentence instead of a prison term
Serve a reduced sentence
Increase the possibility of facing a probation sentence rather than incarceration
Common crimes related to a PC 244 violation are:
PC 240, Assault
Under PC Section 240, assault is a threat to or the unlawful attempt to apply violence/force on someone else. If your lawyer can prove that the substance in your PC 244 violation case was not a flammable substance/caustic chemical, the prosecutor can agree to lower your ‘assault with a caustic chemical’ charges to simple assault. Simple assault is a misdemeanor offense punished by six months of a county jail term and one thousand dollars. As you can see, your PC 244 violation charges being reduced to simple assault is a favorable plea deal since simple assault carries less severe penalties compared to assaulting someone with a flammable substance/caustic chemical.
PC 242, Battery
PC 242 battery is the infliction of violence/force on someone else. Although called assault with caustic chemicals, PC 244 violation is a type of battery offense since it requires that the corrosive chemical touches the supposed victim’s body. PC 242 violation is prosecuted as a misdemeanor offense punished by six months of a jail term and two thousand dollars in fines.
PC Section 203 and PC Section 205, Mayhem and Aggravated Mayhem
PC section 203 defines the offense of mayhem as illegally and maliciously performing any of these to someone:
Depriving them of their body part, for instance, a limb
Rendering useless, disfiguring, or disabling their body part
Cutting/disabling their tongue
Cutting their lip, ear, or nose
Pulling out their eyes
On the contrary, aggravated mayhem is described under PC Section 205 as deliberately causing another person a disfigurement/permanent disability or depriving them of an organ, limb, or body member. If you perform any of the mentioned acts using a flammable substance or caustic chemical, you could be charged with both mayhem and PC 244 violation or with either one of the two crimes.
PC 203 mayhem is considered a felony punishable by felony probation, a maximum of eight years in prison, and ten thousand dollars in fines. You could be subject to a sentence enhancement if the supposed victim is:
65 years old or older
Deaf or blind
Below fourteen years old
A quadriplegic or paraplegic
If any of the above applies, you will be subject to a two or one-year sentence enhancement, as long as you knew or should reasonably have known that the relevant fact about the victim was true. Aggravated mayhem is charged as a felony punished by imprisonment for life with the possibility of parole.
PC 243(d), Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury
Battery causing serious bodily injury is also known as aggravated battery. PC 243(d) defines this crime as striking or touching someone else harmfully or offensively and consequently causing them to sustain a severe injury. If you violate Penal Code Section 244 and the victim suffers severe injuries, you could also be charged with aggravated battery or face one of the two charges. PC 243(d) violation can be prosecuted either as a felony or misdemeanor based on the degree of the injuries and case facts.
A misdemeanor conviction is punished by one thousand dollars in fines and a year jail sentence. A felony conviction is punished by 10,000 dollars in fines and a prison sentence of four years. You will be subject to a sentence enhancement if you commit a felony battery and make the victim suffer significant bodily injury, per PC 12022.7 sentence enhancement law. If the enhancement applies, you will face an additional prison term ranging between three and six years.
PC 245(a)(1), Assault Using a Deadly Weapon (ADW)
Assault with a caustic chemical and PC 245(a)(1) ADW are closely related. The two primary differences between the two offenses are:
Assault with a flammable/caustic substance necessitates that the chemical actually touches the victim. But you could be sentenced for ADW if you merely tried to touch/injure another person.
You must have used force likely to cause significant bodily injury to be sentenced for ADW. For PC 244 violation, you can be convicted even if the corrosive substance is not of a quantity that can inflict severe harm
ADW is considered a wobbler offense, meaning the prosecuting attorney can charge it either as a felony or misdemeanor based on:
The type of the weapon (whether it was a gun),
The extent of the injury inflicted on the victim, and
Whether the alleged victim was a peace/police officer or a protected person
If convicted of a felony, you will face the same penalties as those of a PC 244 violation. And if convicted of a misdemeanor, you will be subject to a year in jail and a maximum fine of 1000 dollars.
Possible Defenses to PC 244
Most of the legal defenses used in other forms of assault and battery crimes can also work best for a PC 244 prosecution. To argue these defenses effectively, you will need help from a skilled criminal defense lawyer. The lawyer will first need to review the facts making up your case to determine what strategy will yield the best possible results. Common defenses your lawyer can help you argue include:
The Flammable Substance/Caustic Substance Did Not Come Into Contact With the Alleged Victim
You may have thrown the caustic chemical or flammable substance toward the supposed victim, but it luckily missed them or did not come into contact with them. A conviction under 244 PC will not suffice because the substance needs to have touched the victim for a conviction to occur.
The Chemical You Threw/Placed On the Victim was not Caustic/It Was Not a Flammable Substance
Penal Code Section 244 provides that for a conviction to occur, the chemical should be categorized as caustic or flammable and not merely any substance that can harm someone. Thus, the judge should not convict you if you threw/placed any other matter that is not categorized as so. For instance, you were in the middle of an argument with your colleague, and you splashed dirty water over their face. In this scenario, you cannot be criminally liable for violating PC Section 244 since the dirty water is not flammable and is also not a caustic substance. However, the prosecution may still charge you with other related, less severe crimes, such as simple assault or simple battery.
The chemical composition of the element in question can be established through independent analysis and testimony by a defense chemist expert. The expert can testify that the substance that you applied to the supposed victim is not classified under the law as a caustic chemical or flammable substance.
You Were Just Defending Yourself/Others
Arguing personal defense/defense for other people against imminent danger is also a valid defense against a Penal Code Section 244 violation charge. In other words, if a party attempts to hurt you somehow and is resorting to using some kind of fatal force or violence against you, the law allows you to use similar fatal force/violence the individual is applying for self-defense. But this defense has to be backed up or substantiated by various conditions, including the facts that:
You had a reason to believe the supposed victim was possibly about to harm or injure you, touch you illegally, or kill you.
You believed you needed to use force to stop the supposed victim from doing whatever they were about to do.
You could not have succeeded in using force alone unless you sought other alternatives.
You applied not more force than was required to avert the danger.
Consider this scenario: If an individual tries to stab or slit your throat using a sharp knife, this is undoubtedly a fatal force. So if you poured a caustic chemical like acid on that person, you would argue you were only attempting to apply self-defense to avoid being gravely hurt. But if another person attempts to punch or slap you and you pour a caustic chemical on them, that may be too much force applied, and it may not satisfy the standards of self-defense/defense of others. Throwing a corrosive chemical on another individual is undoubtedly a severe act for which you must have a sensible justification.
Despite arguing this legal defense, you also must consider the questions the police, prosecution, judge, or jurors might have. For instance, they may ask why you possessed a corrosive substance, to start with, and why you had been walking around with it. They may also need to know why you did not just go to the police to handle things legally if you believed someone would hurt you.
Considering these are some of the questions to be asked, you should consult with a lawyer, tell them the truth, and give them the details/facts of your case if charged with a PC 244 violation. The information you need to give your lawyer includes your arrest and encounters or interactions with the victim since the legal counsel will be the person to help you figure out your best options. Failure to provide all the info related to your charges and be entirely honest will mean the lawyer will not be working with all the information and will not be capable of fully representing you.
There Was No Intent to Injure or Disfigure the Victim In Question
It could be you indeed injured or disfigured the victim. Although, the judge should not convict you if you did not intend to injure/disfigure them. For instance, your attorney can assert that even though you and the victim confronted each other, you did not know the chemical was caustic. Your attorney may also argue that during your confrontation with the victim, they did something that made them be harmed or injured by the corrosive substance. Although related to malice, ‘intent’ is quite a different element and essentially means an informed need to inflict harm or injury. Malice specifically means that the action was driven or caused by an ill motive.
Consider this example to help you understand this defense: you are fighting with your friend. While fighting, you spot a bucket full of some liquid content. You pick the bucket up and pour the liquid on the friend. Unfortunately, the friend suffers severe burns. In this case, you reasonably thought the liquid in the bucket was only water when in the real sense, it was concentrated sulfuric acid that someone else was utilizing to clean appliances. Thus, during your prosecution, the prosecutor will find that you indeed acted willfully and maliciously. However, since you were not aware that the liquid was corrosive, the law will not consider you as having acted with the intent to cause injury or disfigure. As a result, your lawyer will persuade the prosecution team to consider the offense as only a battery instead of assault with a caustic chemical. The lawyer will mount a defense strategy from this perspective.
You Act Was Not Willful or Malicious
One of the key elements that can lead to a conviction for breaking PC 244 law is the detection of will or malice when you act. Thus, if your lawyer can prove that you hurt the victim by accident, the judge should acquit you of the charges. You can argue this defense regardless of whether the victim suffered severe or minor injuries or you acted in a manner considered criminal negligence.
If there is a question about the identity of the individual who placed or threw the chemical on the supposed victim, you could argue the mistaken identity defense.
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
If you have been accused of assaulting someone with a caustic chemical in Anaheim, CA, call our skilled defense lawyers at the California Criminal Lawyer Group for a consultation and share your case details. Our lawyers will counsel you about the possible legal defenses you have, the necessity of an independent investigation, motion practice, plea bargaining, and the possible outcomes for your case. Since each situation is unique, we evaluate every client’s matter on a case-by-case basis, considering the client’s life circumstances and their goal for the legal representation. We specialize in aggressive pretrial representation through pre-file intervention to try and reduce charges or even have them dismissed altogether before the case proceeds to court. Call us now at 714-766-0965 to kick off the process.