In California, individuals over eighteen years old without a felony conviction on their record can legally purchase and use firearms. However, the use of these firearms is regulated. Being responsible and safe with firearms has become important with the increased prevalence of gun violence in the State. You can be arrested and charged with negligent discharge of a firearm if you willfully shoot a firearm in a way that could cause serious injury or death to another person.

Before you are convicted of negligent firearm discharge under California Penal Code 246.3, the prosecution must prove all the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence of actual injury to another person is not necessary to obtain a conviction. California's firearm laws are stringent. For this reason, a conviction for violating this statute could result in severe legal and collateral consequences.

Hiring and retaining a competent legal team is critical when you are charged with negligent firearm discharge. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we provide top-notch legal insight for all our clients battling charges for a firearm offense in Anaheim, CA.

Understanding Penal Code 246.3

California PC 246.3 makes it an offense to willfully discharge a firearm in a way that could cause severe injury or death to someone else. Before you face a conviction under this statute, the prosecuting attorney must prove these elements of the crime:

You willfully Discharged a Firearm or BB Gun

The first element that constitutes negligent firearm discharge is the willfulness of your acts. The prosecutor must show that you intentionally pulled the trigger to discharge the firearm. Therefore, you cannot be liable for this offense if the gun goes off accidentally or if you did not know that the firearm was loaded when you pulled the trigger.

Under this statute, a firearm is any device that discharges a projectile from a barrel through an explosion and could be used as a weapon. CPC 246.3 can also apply to a BB gun. This is a device that expels pellets under gas or air pressure.

You Acted with Gross Negligence

Another critical element that must be proven to obtain a conviction for negligent firearm discharge is that your actions were grossly negligent. Ordinary carelessness or an error of judgment is not enough to hold you liable for this offense. Gross negligence is a more extensive and serious offense that occurs when you:

  • You act in a manner that could create a risk of serious physical injury.
  • Your actions deviate from how a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances.

The jury determines the reasonable conduct under which your actions are compared during your trial.

Your Actions Could Have Resulted in Severe Injury or Death

The last element that constitutes negligent firearm discharge is that your action of discharging a firearm creates a risk of injury or death to another person. This means that injury or death would have likely resulted from your action. Acts like shooting a firearm in the jungle where no one is present may not result in criminal charges under PC 246.3.

The standard of injury addressed under PC 246.3 is great bodily injury. An injury could meet the GBI standards when it causes more than mild or moderate harm. However, the potential injuries must not be permanent to meet the GBI definition.

Sentencing and Penalties for Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

A violation of California PC 246.3 is a California wobbler. The prosecution can file felony or misdemeanor charges against you for this offense. Although the prosecution has discretion in filing the charges, they could consider the following factors when determining the nature of your charges:

  • Your criminal history. If you are a first-time offender, the prosecution could file misdemeanor charges against you. California law is strict on repeat offenders. Therefore, defendants with a violent criminal history are more likely to face a felony charge under PC 246.3.
  • Strength of the prosecutor’s case. Sometimes, the prosecution will wait until they have enough evidence against you to file criminal charges. A felony conviction may require more evidence to obtain a conviction. Therefore, the prosecution will only file felony charges if their case against you is strong.
  • Circumstances of your case. A negligent firearm discharge can potentially cause serious injury or death to another person. If you caused an injury to another person, you could face felony charges. Additionally, shooting a firearm in the presence of minors could result in a felony charge.
  • Your cooperation with law enforcement. When determining the nature of your charges, the prosecutor will assess your level of cooperation with law enforcement officers at the time of your arrest and during the investigation process.

When charged as a felony, a conviction for negligent gun discharge will attract these penalties:

  • A prison sentence ranging from sixteen months to two years.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.
  • Formal probation.

On the other hand, a misdemeanor conviction under this statute will see you spend up to one year in county jail. The court can also impose a $1,000 fine and probation.

Immigration consequences

The stakes are high for immigrants facing charges of negligent firearm discharge in California. If convicted of this offense, you could face severe immigration consequences, including deportation or being rendered inadmissible in the United States. You can keep your immigration status by finding a skilled criminal lawyer to help you fight your charges and avoid a conviction.

Sentencing Enhancements Under California Penal Code 246.3

In California, sentencing enhancements are circumstances that make your offense more serious and thus increase the severity of your penalties. If you are found guilty of negligently discharging a firearm, the court can impose the following sentencing enhancements on your case:

Gang Enhancement

Involvement in a street gang and engaging in its activities are serious crimes under California law. If you negligently shot a firearm to benefit or in association with a street gang, the court will impose the gang sentencing enhancement under Penal Code 186.22 in your case. You must be found guilty and convicted under Penal Code 456.3 before the enhancement is imposed.

The gang sentencing enhancement increases your prison sentence by four years, which is served concurrently with your sentence for negligent firearm discharge. Fighting to avoid a felony conviction will help you avoid the enhancement.

California Three Strikes Law

When charged as a felony, negligent firearm discharge is a strike under California's Three Strikes Law. The three strikes law is a sentencing enhancement that imposes severe sentences on individuals who commit serious and violent felonies. If you have a point on your record, a conviction under PC 246.3 will be twice the crime's normal sentence. For defendants with two strikes, a conviction for negligent firearm discharge as a felony will attract a prison sentence of 25 years to life.

Probation for Negligent Firearm Discharge

You could be sentenced to jail or prison time after a conviction under PC 246.3. Sometimes, the judge will allow you to serve a portion of the sentence outside of incarceration by imposing a probation sentence. Pronation can be supervised or unsupervised.

Supervised or felony probation lasts three to five years, while unsupervised probation lasts up to three years. While probation is a suitable sentence, not all defendants facing charges for negligent firearm discharge will be eligible for it. Before imposing the sentence, the court will consider your case's criminal history and other circumstances.

You are more likely to be sentenced to probation if you are a first-time offender and your case does not have aggravating circumstances. The court could attach the following conditions to a probation sentence:

  • Payment of court fines.
  • Surrender all your firearms to law enforcement.
  • Avoid committing other crimes.
  • Make regular check-ins with your probation officer.
  • Random drug testing.

Although a probation sentence could save you from the stigma of incarceration, the court is strict on adherence to probation conditions. A violation of one or more probation conditions can result in an arrest. Law enforcement officers or the probation department report instances of probation violations.

A violation of probation could result in its revocation. If your probation is revoked, the court can impose the original or maximum prison or jail sentence for your crime.

Can I Expunge a PC 246.3 Conviction?

Yes. Whether you face felony or misdemeanor charges, a conviction for negligent firearm discharge can have a long-lasting impact on your life. California law offers some forms of post-conviction relief to help you avoid these consequences. Under PC 1204.3, an expungement is a legal proceeding where the court allows you to withdraw a guilty or no contest verdict and exchange it for not guilty, followed by dismissing your case.

You may be eligible to expunge your record if you are convicted of violating PC 246.3. However, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • You have completed your probation. If the court sentences you to probation instead of incarceration for negligent firearm discharge, you must complete the probation term before petitioning the court for an expungement. Additionally, you must have followed all your probation terms.
  • You have not committed subsequent offenses. You must not have committed additional offenses to receive an expungement for your PC 246.3 conviction.
  • You do not have pending criminal charges. You must not have a pending criminal case when you file a petition to expunge your conviction.

You will be required to file a petition under PC 1204.3 and attend a hearing for an expungement of your conviction. Expunging your conviction will not erase it from your criminal record. However, you can truthfully answer no when asked about prior convictions. Employers, professional licensing boards, and landlords cannot use an expunged conviction against you.

Although expunging your conviction offers numerous benefits, it cannot restore your gun rights if they are taken away after a conviction. Therefore, a skilled attorney is critical to protecting you against a conviction.

Legal Defense Against PC 246.3 Charges

Although you have the right to own a firearm in California, you must follow the specific laws on gun use. You could face severe legal penalties If you are convicted of negligently discharging a firearm. You will need a knowledgeable attorney to help you build a strong defense against your charges.

The main focus of a defense strategy is to have your case dismissed or walk out of court with a not-guilty verdict. However, if this outcome is not possible, your lawyer can convince the prosecution to pursue a misdemeanor conviction instead of a felony. Common defenses you can use against PC 246.3 criminal charges include:

You Acted in Self Defense

California law allows you to take the necessary measures to protect yourself or another person from imminent danger. You can beat your charges for negligent firearm discharge by arguing that you acted in self-defense. The self-defense argument will only apply under the following circumstances:

  • You reasonably believed that you or another person were in danger of unlawful touching or serious bodily harm.
  • You believed firing the gun was the best way to protect yourself against danger.
  • The force you used was only enough to protect and not harm others.

The court cannot find you guilty of violating PC 246.3 if it is clear that you acted in self-defense.

You Did Not Discharge the Gun

Many cases of negligent firearm discharge stem from firearm discharges at parties or during celebrations. When a firearm is discharged in a large crowd, it may be difficult for the witnesses to identify the person holding it. This could result in cases of mistaken identification.

Additionally, you could face false accusations of discharging firearms when a person who has anger against you gives false testimony about the account of events. Your defense attorney can help you uncover the truth of the events and establish that you did not violate California PC 246.3.

Reasonable Belief that the Gun was Unloaded

Intentional discharge of a firearm requires you to know that the firearm is loaded. Therefore, the prosecution must prove this fact before you are convicted of the offense. Proving your knowledge that the gun was loaded is an uphill task for the prosecution. This gives you a chance to argue your lack of knowledge. In this case, you need more knowledge to have the intent necessary to commit the crime.

No Risk of Death or Injury to Another Person

The prosecution must prove that your act of discharging a firearm posed a risk of injury or death to another person before a conviction is possible under California PC 246.3. The jury will rely on the location and time you discharged the firearm to determine whether you pose a risk to other people.

If you discharged a firearm at a location where people do not frequent or when no one was present, you will not be charged with negligent firearm discharge. With the guidance of an experienced lawyer, you could create reasonable doubt in the prosecutor’s case and increase your chance of avoiding a conviction.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Negligent Discharge of a Firearm in California

Even when you are not convicted, an arrest for a serious gun crime like negligent firearm discharge can have a long-lasting impact on your life. After an arrest and charges for this crime, you may feel uncertain of the right steps to take to protect your rights and avoid a guilty verdict. The following are frequently asked questions on PC 246.3:

  1. Can I be charged with negligent firearm discharge if the gun goes off accidentally?

The prosecution must prove that you discharged the firearm willfully before they obtain a conviction against you. Although you can be arrested for such an instance, your defense attorney will work hard to show your lack of intent to engage in the dangerous acts. Some of the circumstances under which a firearm could accidentally discharge include:

  • You drop the firearm, and it goes off.
  • You reasonably believed that the gun was unloaded. This could happen when you are holding another person’s firearm.
  • The gun goes off while you are cleaning it.
  • You reasonably believed that the firearm was fake.
  1. Can I be found guilty of negligently discharging a firearm for shooting in the air during a party?

Yes. Shooting a firearm during celebrations is illegal unless your actions are in self-defense. The potential for such an act to cause severe injuries could result in your arrest and criminal charges.

  1. Does shooting a firearm to prevent gang activities on the street count as negligent discharge?

The prosecutor needs to establish that you willfully discharged a gun and posed a risk of injury to others before your conviction under PC 246.3. Although California law allows you to defend yourself from foreseeable harm, you will need a skilled lawyer to prove to the court that you or another person were in danger.

If you are part of a street gang and you shoot a firearm to disperse or interfere with the activities of a rival gang, you could be found guilty of negligent firearm discharge with a gang enhancement.

Offenses Related to Negligent Firearm Discharge

The following firearm offenses could be charged alongside or together with PC 246.3:

Brandishing a Weapon

California law makes it a crime to exhibit or draw a firearm in a threatening manner. The prosecution will prove your liability for this offense if:

  • You exhibited or drew a deadly firearm in another person’s presence. In this case, a firearm could cause severe bodily injury or death when used on another person.
  • You drew the firearm in a rude or angry manner.
  • You used a firearm in a fight or altercation.
  • Your actions were not in self-defense.

Most instances of brandishing a weapon attract misdemeanor charges. After a conviction, you will be sentenced to a jail sentence of up to one year. If you brandish a weapon on school grounds or near a daycare center, you risk facing felony charges.

Felon with a Firearm

Under California PC 29800(a)(1), it is illegal for an individual with an active felony warrant or felony conviction on their record to purchase, possess, or own a firearm. This law will also apply to individuals who are addicted to narcotics. If you discharge a firearm while prohibited from owning one, the prosecution can charge you with negligent firearm discharge under PC 29800(a)(1).

A conviction for felon with a firearm requires the prosecution to show that you were not authorized to possess a firearm and violated this law. Possession of a firearm by a felon is a felony punishable by a three-year prison sentence. You risk facing harsher penalties if you have a prior conviction for a gun offense.

Find an Experienced Anaheim Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Most firearm owners purchase guns to protect themselves and their families. However, your right to own a firearm comes with a high degree of responsibility. You could face an arrest and criminal charges under PC 246.3 if you negligently discharge a firearm. Negligent firearm discharge is a wobbler whose conviction results in a lengthy prison or jail sentence.

Even after serving your prison or jail sentence and paying your fines, the felony conviction will remain on your criminal record. This will appear in all your background checks and can impact multiple aspects of your life. Not all arrests for negligent firearm discharge will attract convictions. With expert legal guidance, you can fight the charges and secure a favorable outcome in your case.

Your choice of legal representation as you battle a gun offense could mean the difference between spending decades behind bars and walking free with a dismissed charge. At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we understand the level of impact that a PC 246.3 conviction can have on your life. Our reliable defense attorneys will help protect your constitutional rights and build a strong defense against the charges. Contact us today at 714-766-0965 from any location in Anaheim, CA, for much-needed legal insight in your case.