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Assault w/ Caustic Chemical

Aggravated assault crimes are serious and such allegations should not be ignored. Assault with caustic chemicals is considered a particularly vicious crime that carries felony consequences.

This offense on your criminal record will have a significant impact on your future. It will result in limited academic pursuits, employment opportunities, and housing choices. Attempting to fight such charges alone can be difficult. It’s highly recommended you seek a criminal defense lawyer who understands the challenges behind fighting horrendous assault accusations. 

For a deeper understanding of assault with caustic chemicals, we must first look into how California defines it. 

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Defining Assault with Caustic Chemicals

California defines assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code 244. It states placing or throwing a caustic chemical, corrosive material, and/or flammable substance on an individual with the intent to disfigure or injure this person is a crime. More specifically, you commit this crime if you;

  • Maliciously and willfully,
    • Acting with maliciousness means someone is committing a wrongful act or acting with unlawful intentions to aggravate, defraud, disturb, or hurt/injure another person.
    • Doing something willfully means someone acted on purpose.
  • Place, throw, or cause the placing or throwing, of
  • Caustic chemicals, corrosive or flammable substances, or vitriol compounds,
    • Caustic chemicals are substances that can burn and/or corrode living tissue.
    • Flammable, under this law, refers to chemicals that have a flashpoint of up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 65 degrees Celsius. This includes gasoline, petroleum substances, and flammable liquids.
      • The flashpoint means what the lowest possible temperature is to cause the vapor of a liquid chemical to ignite.
    • The human body runs at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which is all that’s needed for vitriol(acidic compounds), like sulfuric acid to burn someone’s skin. Enough of it could cause severe corrosion of one’s flesh, leaving life-long scarring and/or disfigurement.
  • Onto another person,
  • With the intention of hurting, scarring, and/or injuring the individuals’ skin or flesh and/or to cause disfigurement to their body.

This crime can cause permanent injury to another person which is why California takes this type of assault seriously. Also, it’s important to note there are similar offenses that can be charged in addition to PC 244. Recognizing those slight differences can help with your case in the event that not all the criteria for assault with caustic chemicals are met. Navigating through these related offenses could help determine the severity of consequences one would face if they are not guilty of PC 244.

Closely Related Offenses

Below are offenses that are closely related to assault with caustic chemicals and can sometimes be charged in association with it.

California Penal Code 422.55 - Hate Crimes

If a criminal act was committed against the victim because of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, religion, or in association with any of these characteristics, then you could face a hate crime offense under this statute.

California Penal Code 245(a)(1) - Assault with a Deadly Weapon(ADW)

It is a crime to use force against another person that would most likely result in great bodily harm or injury.

California Penal Code 240 & 242 - Assault & Battery Laws

Assault crimes do fall under California’s battery laws, but, if corrosive/caustic substances were used, it raises the crime to felony PC 244.

Under PC 240, it is a crime to attempt or threaten to use force or violence on another person. This means one would not actually have to get physical with someone else, the attempt or threat is enough.

Under PC 242, it is a crime to actually inflict force or violence on someone else.

California Penal Code 451 - Arson

It’s a crime to set fire, burn or cause the burning of property such as structures, land, and personal property.

California Penal Code 13700 - Domestic Violence Laws

These laws make it a crime to abuse, hurt or threaten to hurt an intimate partner, such as a current or former spouse, fiancee, romantic cohabitant, someone with which you have or have had a dating relationship with, or the co-parent of one’s child.

The Prosecution

For the prosecution to get a conviction for PC 244, they must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements of the crime took place. Also referred to as facts of the case, they are:

Elements of the Crime;

  • The defendant willfully and maliciously,
  • Placed, threw, or caused placing or tossing of,
  • Caustic chemicals, corrosive or flammable substances, or vitriol compounds,
  • Onto another person(s),
  • Intending to cause them injury or disfigurement.

Felony assault and battery cases are taken seriously by the district attorney (D.A.). Assault with caustic chemicals is a harsh crime and depending on the severity of the injuries, the prosecution will most likely seek the maximum felony penalties associated with breaking this law.

Who Can Be Charged

To illustrate who can and cannot be charged with PC 244, take a look at the following examples.

Example 1

Dennis wanted to get revenge on his ex-girlfriend, Sheila. She was working on her modeling career. He wanted to take her opportunity for a successful career away by purposely disfiguring her. He snuck into her apartment and mixed drain cleaner into her shampoo.

When Sheila used her shampoo, it burned her eyes and scalp. The skin all over her body grew extremely irritated as she attempted to wash everything off. It got so bad, she had to seek medical attention.

Not only is Dennis guilty of PC 244, assault with caustic chemicals, but breaking and entering Sheila’s apartment to commit a criminal act also makes him guilty of burglary under PC 495.

Example 2

Cody disapproved of his neighbors’ mixed family, often damaging their fence and mailbox. After replacing the third damaged mailbox, they confronted Cody and asked him to stop or they would call the police. In a fit of anger, he graduated from damaging the fence and mailbox to breaking their windows when they weren’t home. He soaked some socks in ammonia and bleach, put bricks into them, and threw them through the windows of their house.

The combined chemicals created strong fumes that burned the sinuses, eyes and respiratory tract of several of the people who were home as well as their pet dogs.

Cody would be guilty of multiple counts of assault with caustic chemicals under PC 244 because he intentionally wanted to hurt his neighbors using common household cleaners that have specific danger labels. Bleach and ammonia, for instance, are known to create toxic fumes when combined. He would also be charged with vandalism under PC 594, for causing property damage to his neighbors home. Furthermore, because his unlawful actions were racially motivated he would also be guilty of hate crimes under PC 422.55.

Example 3

Jennifer was upset that her best friend, who was also her roommate, no longer wanted to be friends and was moving out. In an act of revenge, she poured 5W-30 onto her ex-friend’s bed and attempted to set it on fire with matches. The first match simply went out as soon as it touched the motor oiled bed. Her roommate walked in as she was lighting the second match and yelled at her. Angry, she doused motor oil on her roommate, lit a match and threw it on her. The match went out, she shoved her friend into the wall and ran to her bedroom.

Although she did intentionally, willfully, and maliciously commit the assault, Jennifer would not be guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under PC 244 because she did not use a flammable substance as covered under this statute. The flammable liquid would have to have a flashpoint of up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Substances with lower flashpoints typically ignite faster. Jennifer did not know that motor oil requires temperatures upward of 400 degrees Fahrenheit to catch fire.

However, Jennifer would be guilty of PC 240, assault for attempting to cause the roommate harm or injury by throwing the motor oil on her. She would also be guilty of PC 242, battery, for making physical contact and shoving her into the wall when the oil failed to ignite. Additionally, depending on the value of the bedding, Jennifer could face PC 594, vandalism for damaging her ex-friends property.

Legal Defense

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will be familiar with assault cases and have insight into some of the most common defenses. Here are just some examples of legal defenses that have been used to fight against charges for assault with caustic chemicals, PC 244.

Was it an accident?

Unfortunately, accidental incidents happen that can be misconstrued as assault with caustic chemicals. If there was no intent to maliciously throw corrosive chemicals on someone, then they are not guilty of PC 244.

For instance, Molly was emotionally distraught after breaking up with her boyfriend, Nate. She had helped to pay off his motorcycle and requested reimbursement. He refused. She broke into his garage, poured gasoline all over his motorcycle and lit it on fire. Nate ran in and attempted to put it out, catching his sleeve on fire. Molly helped him put the fire out on his sleeve and the bike.

Molly is guilty of breaking and entering her ex’s garage to commit a crime, she would most likely face charges under PC 495 burglary. She could also face penalties under PC 451, arson and PC 594, vandalism for destroying someone else’s property.

Although Nate was burned from attempting to put out the flames, she did not intend for him to get burned. She would not be guilty of PC 244, assault with caustic chemicals. However, when someone is burned as a result of arson, they could face felony sentencing of up to nine years in state prison.

Was it an act of self-defense?

Acting in self-defense or to help protect someone else is a valid defense against assault with caustic chemicals. In order for this defense to be solid, all three facts must be met;

There was a reasonable belief that you were in imminent danger of being unlawfully touched, injured, or killed;

That belief was enough to convince you that force was needed to prevent it from happening; and

Only a reasonable and necessary amount of force was used to prevent it.

For instance, Arnie was walking home from work and took a shortcut through the shopping mall parking lot. He stopped when he heard a kid screaming for help. He went to investigate, spotting a man attempting to pull a boy into his van. Acting quickly, he pulled out his mold remover spray from his cleaning supplies and ran up to the van, spraying the would-be kidnapper in the face. The strong chemicals burned their eyes and sinuses.

Arnie was a house-cleaner and had to carry his supplies with him. Luckily, he was there to prevent an attempted kidnapping. He would not be guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under PC 244. Even though Arnie willfully and maliciously intended to injure the kidnapper, he only did so because of the reasonable belief that he needed to act in order to save the child’s life.

Did the defendant act with the intent to cause any injury to someone else?

Willful and malicious intent are significant factors in an assault with caustic chemicals case. If even one of those facts is missing, then one would not be guilty of PC 244.

For example, Sarah and Micheal were arguing in the household chemicals aisle at the grocery store. Angry, he shoves Sarah with his shoulder causing her to hit the shelves behind her. They were carrying bottles of an ammonia mix. A cap had come loose on one of them spilling the contents onto her neck and back. The strong cleaning agent was enough to burn her skin and irritate her sinuses as well as anyone else in the proximity of the chemical vapor.

Micheal would be guilty of PC 242, battery for shoving her into the shelves. Although he did act willfully and maliciously, he did not intend to disfigure or scar Sarah. He would not be guilty of PC 244, assault with caustic chemicals.

It’s important to note, even if it was unintentional or accidental, one could still be held liable for any hospital bills the alleged victim may accrue as a result of burns or injuries.

Penalties for Penal Code 244 - Assault with Caustic Chemicals

If convicted of PC 244, you face felony punishments.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation, and/or

Up to one year in county jail,

Victim restitution payments,

Checking in with a probation officer on a regular basis,

A protective order placed against you preventing contact with the victim,

Community service hours assigned to you, and/or

Court-ordered individual or group therapy sessions or anger management courses.

2, 3, or 4 years in California state prison, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in fines.

Regardless of whether you receive the lesser sentence of felony probation or the maximum prison time, you would still be held accountable for any medical bills, lost wages, and legal bills the victim may accrue as a result of the caustic chemical assault.

Penalties for Closely Related Offenses

Penal Code 422.55 - Hate Crimes

Misdemeanor;

Informal (summary) probation,

Up to one year in county jail,

Fines of up to five thousand dollars, and/or

As much as four hundred hours of community service.

Felony;

Formal probation,

16 months, 2, or 3 years in state prison, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

Penal Code 245(a)(1) - Assault with a Deadly Weapon

Misdemeanor;

Summary (misdemeanor) probation,

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony;

Formal (felony) probation,

2, 3, or 4 years in California state prison, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines.

Penal Code 451 - Arson

If convicted, the felony consequences depend on what or who was damaged from being burned. One could face maximum incarceration penalties of;

5, 7, or 9 years in state prison. 

Penal Code 13700 - Domestic Violence Laws

There are several statutes that address specific crimes committed against intimate partners and/or family members. The penalties for each crime differ and could result in misdemeanor or felony punishments. In some instances, mandatory incarceration is applied. One could face steep fines, jail or prison time, as well as victim restitution payments. These consequences would be in addition to one year of attendance in anger management, batterer’s treatment, or a counseling program.  

We Can Help

Are you or someone you know facing charges for assault with caustic chemicals under PC 244? Get legal advice as soon as you can. A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can help fight on your behalf for the best possible outcome.

If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Los Angeles, Orange County, or Illinois, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum. As a former prosecutor and an award-winning criminal defense lawyer, Attorney Yum understands how daunting the legal battle can be.

For more information on any aforementioned statutes or for a free consultation call us at 619-233-4433 or click here to send us an online message about the details of your case.

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