When you acquire a firearm, you must take care while handling it to avoid any unforeseen incidents that could attract criminal charges. Firearm owners could leave their weapons unattended, and another curious person takes the firearm and injure an innocent third party. Regardless of the facts surrounding your case, you face legal consequences if the evidence points to the negligent use of a firearm.
However, there are situations where you had a genuine belief that the gun was unloaded when you discharged it. In such a scenario, you will need a lawyer’s services to help you prove that you did not intend to cause harm. While your argument may be genuine, you will be in a better position to make a convincing argument with the help of your criminal defense lawyer.
Seeking an attorney from The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm will help you build exceptional legal defenses. Our highly experienced lawyers apply the most effective legal strategies to ensure that your submissions/ arguments in court are credible and persuasive enough to win the case or to guarantee a sentence reduction. Additionally, we are keen on developing lasting relationships with all our Los Angeles clients through continued support after court trial processes.
The Legal Definition of Negligent Discharge of a Firearm
Typically, the negligent discharge of a firearm has numerous definitions beyond the provisions of the California Penal Code. While such descriptions may be valid in their respect, it is crucial to analyze the information available in the Penal Code because it is the primary definition applicable in court. Therefore, it is essential to understand the description given to ensure that you are aware of the charges you face.
Section 246.3 of the California Penal Code defines the offense as an intentional discharge of a firearm that may cause severe injuries or even death to the victim. From this statement, we can deduce that your actions should have a recipient for the crime of negligent discharge of a firearm to apply. Additionally, in this case, the definition of criminal negligence relates to the undue disregard to human life. Thus, a person who negligently discharges his/her firearm doesn’t worry about other people’s safety. As a result, your actions will include the aspect of recklessness that is contrary to what any reasonable person would do.
Also, it is crucial to understand what qualifies as a firearm under the Penal Code provisions. Section 16520 defines a firearm as a weapon from which a projectile is released through a barrel. The shell is a metal bullet that fires from the barrel. In a gun, the powering force to shoot the shot is explosive or combustive, to push the projectile out. Hence, the weapon may contain a combustive powder or any other substance that may create the required force to shoot out the shell. Also, the definition of a firearm extends to any BB device that can also expel a projectile. A BB weapon shoots BB pellets using air pressure, spring action, or gas pressure to fire the bullets. Since a BB device can also cause severe or fatal injuries to a victim, they qualify as firearms.
The Elements of the Crime of Negligent Discharge of a Firearm
In any criminal case, the prosecutor must establish the requisite elements of the charged crime before the presiding judge renders his/her verdict. Moreover, the prosecution must ensure that there is sufficient proof of your involvement in each of the crime’s elements crime beyond any reasonable doubt, to ensure that your trial is fair and lawful.
Therefore, if the prosecutor cannot demonstrate a direct link between your actions and their contribution to an offense, his/her arguments will not be convincing enough to result in your conviction. Consequently, the prosecution works hard to collect evidence from all sources, including witness statements, surveillance footage, or even forensic sources like fingerprints or DNA evidence.
The elements of the crime of negligent discharge of a firearm that the prosecutor needs to prove are:
Your Action of Shooting the Firearm was Wilful
One of the essential elements of any crime is that the defendant must have acted intentionally. This means that he/she was willingly performed the unlawful action in question. In this case, the prosecutor must prove that you had a conscious intention to discharge the firearm and cause harm or injury to another person. To do this, the prosecutor may ask a set of questions during cross-examination, to acquire information that shows your wilful actions.
For example, you must state whether you knew that the firearm was loaded when you made the negligent discharge. The answer you give will heavily rely on the circumstances of your case, because some events may be a clear demonstration of your knowledge that you were handling a loaded firearm. For example, if there is evidence showing that you removed the safety feature of your gun or any other weapon you may have used, the prosecutor can make a direct inference of your knowledge.
Another point to note is that the prosecutor will trace back to the cause of your actions to determine whether you intended to discharge the firearm. For example, if you were in an open park and decided to show off your shooting skills to your friends, the events that led to your actions will demonstrate a willful intention. The intention arises as you seek to prove a point to your peers. Consequently, when a stray bullet injured or killed a victim in the park, you may be held fully responsible for the outcome.
However, you should also note that discharging a firearm accidentally does not attract criminal charges. Since the prosecutor must show that you had an intention to fire your weapon negligently, a good counter-argument is stating that you did not know that the firearm was loaded.
In this case, it is more difficult for the prosecution to show that you were unaware of the state of the gun, mainly because several factors may cause you to reasonably believe that you were not using a loaded firearm. For example, if the weapon belonged to someone else who left it unattended, you may not be sure of any available bullets inside. The point of leading your arguments to this perspective is that you cannot form a criminal intent to discharge a weapon if you negligently were not aware that it was loaded.
Your Act was Grossly Negligent
When an action falls under gross negligence, your way of dealing with an issue unconventional and no reasonable person will arrive at such a decision. Therefore, it means that your actions demonstrated extraordinary carelessness or misjudgment of reality.
When proving that you acted in a criminally negligent way, the prosecutor must prove that you were reckless in discharging the firearm. For example, if you decide to fire a weapon in an amusement parade aimlessly, you will be guilty of gross negligence.
The main reason for such an accusation is the large number of people expected in a show, meaning that your action of discharging the firearm could easily harm or kill an unsuspecting victim. Thus, in this scenario, the prosecutor will have an easy time proving that your recklessness exposed people to impending danger from stray bullets.
The prosecutor also needs to demonstrate that you showed indifference to any consequences of your actions and had complete disregard for human life. The circumstances surrounding your case and any available witness statements will contribute significantly to providing the prosecutor with the required evidence. For example, if you continued to fire aimlessly in the air even after people around you tried to stop you, the prosecutor will have proven that your actions were grossly negligent because you disregarded the well being of all those around you.
Your Negligent Discharge May Have Caused Injury or Death
In many cases, a negligent discharge does not harm anyone, mainly because a defendant fires a warning shot or a stray bullet to the sky. Nevertheless, the prosecution team has leverage over you because all they need to prove is that your action was dangerous and could cause the injury or death of a victim.
As a result, all the prosecutor needs to do is to use several hypothetical situations to show that your actions to discharge your firearm negligently could result in severe consequences for any unsuspecting victim. Additionally, it is immaterial whether the scenarios used by the prosecution are unlikely to happen since the main point that he/she has to prove is that your actions exposed other people to possible danger.
Consequently, even if you did not cause any harm or death to anyone, putting others at risk because of your negligent actions is enough to prove your guilt. If you harm or cause the death of a victim, the prosecutor will have an easier time proving guilt because all he/she needs to show is a direct causation link.
Here, the main question that the prosecutor will have to answer is whether the negligent discharge of a projectile from your firearm was the immediate cause of death or injury to the victim. If there is any surveillance footage that shows your involvement in the unlawful act, your chances of facing legal repercussions are higher. Moreover, a testimony from the afflicted person also assists the prosecutor to prove his/her allegations against you.
Available Defenses for the Crime
Despite the prosecutor’s efforts to prove you are guilty of negligent discharge of a firearm, your criminal defense attorney should defend you. Developing the most appropriate criminal defense depends on the exact circumstances of your case to ensure that you do not contradict the facts presented to the judge.
We recommend providing your defense attorney with all useful information regarding your situation that could strengthen your defense. The details you give your lawyer will go a long way in establishing persuasive and credible arguments that may secure your release or reduce your penalties significantly. Here are some of the available arguments:
You Had a Genuine Belief that the Gun was Unloaded
A defendant facing charges for negligent discharge of a firearm faces the consequences for applying a genuine belief that the gun was not loaded as they discharge it. Several lines of argument your defense attorney presents may help demystify the circumstances of your case to persuade the judge to find you innocent. For example, if you pick a rifle from a wall display at home and decide to try firing it outside the house, you may be unaware that it was loaded. The argument may apply because, in most cases, an item in display is not supposed to be active. Thus, your criminal defense attorney may rely on everyday applicable life situations to show that your belief was genuine and that you did not know that the firearm was loaded.
If the argument is successful, the charges you face are dropped, mainly because, as established, it is not possible to form a criminal intention if you did not know that the gun was loaded. It would then follow that since you were incapable of forming the criminal intent to fire the weapon negligently to cause harm or injury, you cannot be guilty of the offense altogether.
You Acted in Self Defense
Using self-defense as a counter-argument is an excellent choice in this case, especially if there was a third party involved in the occurrence at hand. Usually, this defense works best if the circumstances leading to your actions were reasonable to avoid an impending danger someone else posed. However, your argument must meet the standard requirements of anyone acting in self-defense.
Firstly, you must have had enough reason to believe that you or someone near you was in danger. For example, if you were alone and heard unfamiliar noises outside, that could have led you to think that someone was planning to break into your home. Subsequently, you may have become apprehensive and decided to use a weapon to fire a warning shot.
If the bullet happens to land on the person who created the alarming noises and caused injuries, you should not be liable for the harm caused because your apprehension is valid. Moreover, you have a right to defend yourself and your property from danger, to ensure that you continue with proper enjoyment of your home.
Secondly, the danger you believe to be facing must be reasonable enough to warrant the use of a firearm and not any other weapon to protect yourself. In this case, you have a responsibility to apply your mind when choosing the mode of retaliation to use, to ensure that your actions are directly proportional to the danger.
For example, the judge may reject self-defense as a legal defense to your case if you knew that the noises you heard outside were caused by raccoons or other rodents tampering with trash cans outside your house. Therefore, if your act of retaliation resulted in a negligent discharge of a firearm and caused the injury or death of a person walking nearby, you will be responsible for your actions.
Lastly, the force you apply when discharging your firearm must be reasonable and proportional to the danger at hand. Using the example of hearing noises outside your house, you may fire a warning shot once to scare away the person you believe to be outside. However, if you continue to fire more shots even when you are sure that the person has fled the scene, or decide to chase after the person while still shooting, the judge may find that you used excessive force to handle the problem. Consequently, your actions may attract more severe consequences because firing the weapon can quickly turn into a murder or manslaughter when you continue to aim at the person who you are trying to scare off.
In light of the requirements for self-defense to apply, you need to let your criminal defense attorney know of any factors that could turn the line of arguments against you, to ensure that he/she prepares adequately before using the defense in court.
Nobody Was Harmed or Killed After the Discharge
Sometimes, the prosecutor may fail to present credible hypothetical situations in his/her arguments as he/she tries to prove that your actions may have caused injury or death. Such a scenario occurred when you fired the weapon in an isolated area where nobody was in the vicinity.
Your criminal defense lawyer will ensure that there is enough proof to show that there was no possibility of anyone being present when you were firing, meaning that you did not expose anyone to danger. The defense is exclusive to cases where you are far from possible human interaction.
For example, you may decide to go on a solo road trip and stop in the middle of a deserted road route. In case of any encounter with animal danger, you may decide to discharge your weapon and fire to scare the animal away. If someone happens to hear the short from a distance and raise the matter to nearby authorities, the defense will come in handy.
Your lawyer needs to prove that motorists rarely use the route you had stopped and that there was no possible risk exposed to anyone because you were alone at the time of firing and even minutes after.
On the contrary, the defense will not work if your fire shot was in a populated area like a neighborhood or an amusement park. The prosecutor only needs to prove the possibility of exposing others to harm through making the firearm shot. Thus, the circumstances of your case must include a secluded area where you reasonably believed that you were alone.
Penalties for the Crime of Negligent Discharge of a Firearm
If the prosecutor succeeds in proving that you are guilty of the offense charged, you will face several penalties. The Negligent Discharge of a Firearm is a wobbler crime, meaning that you may face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the severity of the circumstances surrounding your case. However, you need to note that you are only eligible for misdemeanor charges if you committed the offense of negligent discharge using a BB device.
As a misdemeanor, the crime will result in one year in county jail or a fine of up to $1,000.
Under a felony charge, you will face several penalty options. Among them are:
A fine of up to $10,000.
A sentence of sixteen months to four years in prison.
If the judge avails the option of formal probation, you will be eligible to serve your sentence outside the jail. However, there are several requirements you must fulfill to ensure that the punishment continues without any mishaps. You must regularly meet with your probation officer to ensure that he/she monitors your progress and records your compliance record. You may also be required to pay a restitution fee if your offense resulted in the injury or death of a victim. The payment should give the affected person enough financial support to get back on his/her feet after the accident ordeal.
If your negligent discharge of a firearm were used to benefit gang operations, you would face a sentence enhancement that leads to additional years to your jail sentence. In most cases, you risk facing another two to four years in prison.
Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
It is easy to overlook the legal consequences of your actions, especially when you believe that you are not doing anything wrong. However, firearm accidents happen frequently, resulting in the harm or death of an unsuspecting victim. While the action often amounts to a criminal act, we at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm believe in representing our clients in the best way we can prove their innocence. If you require criminal defense services for the crime of Negligent discharge of a firearm in Los Angeles, call us today at 310-935-1675.