The main difference between self-defense and negligent discharge of a firearm is that with self-defense, you reasonably believed that someone was going to kill you or cause serious injury to you or a family member, while with negligent discharge of a firearm, you did not.
The charge of negligent discharge of a firearm generally comes into play when there is no fear for your life. Yet you pulled the trigger in a situation where you did or could have killed someone.
We explain both situations in a little more detail below. Whatever the circumstances, if you have been involved in a shooting of any kind, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer in LA on your side. The team at the Simmrin Law Group can help ensure that your rights are protected.
California’s Castle Doctrine
California’s Castle Doctrine (Penal Code Section 198.5) allows you to use deadly force in your own home. You can do this if you are acting to defend yourself and your family and you “have a reasonable fear of imminent peril or great bodily injury.”
In order to claim self-defense when you have used deadly force, a few conditions must have occurred:
- You knew or had reason to believe the person had entered your home unlawfully.
- The intruder was breaking the law (stealing your things or attacking a family member).
- You had a reasonable fear for your life or harm to you, a family member, or another person staying with you.
- Neither you nor the other people in your home provoked the intruder.
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You are also allowed to claim self-defense if you injure or kill someone if you are outside your home and meet certain conditions. This is called justifiable homicide and applies if you:
- Had a reasonable belief that you were in danger of being injured or killed.
- Had a reasonable belief that you had to use force to prevent harm to yourself.
- Used only the force necessary to stop the threat.
Negligent Discharge of a Firearm
Under California law, you have committed the crime of negligent discharge of a firearm under Penal Code Section 246.3 if you meet these conditions:
- You willfully discharged the firearm
- You did it in a grossly negligent manner
- It could have resulted in someone’s injury or death
Let’s take this apart. There are a few terms here, including “willfully” and “grossly negligent,” which are defined in the California penal code.
This means you intentionally fired the gun, whether it was a BB gun, handgun, shotgun, etc. You purposefully pulled the trigger. You could have been taking target practice, shooting at an animal, etc.
Under California law, you acted with gross negligence if BOTH of these things are true:
- You acted recklessly, in a way that created a great risk of death or serious injury to someone.
- A reasonable person would have known that discharging the firearm would create just such a risk.
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Examples of Negligent Discharge
Many things can qualify as a negligent discharge of a firearm. The following examples illustrate just a few situations in which someone might face a negligent discharge arrest in California.
A teenager fires a BB gun at a target in his yard. The bullet misses the target and hits a small neighbor child. The teenager could be charged under PC 246.3.
A man uses his hunting rifle to shoot at birds or squirrels in his urban, residential neighborhood. He hits a couple of birds, but no people are harmed. Despite the fact that there were no injuries, the man could still face a charge of negligent discharge of a firearm.
A person fires a pistol into the air during a celebration. Nobody gets harmed in the incident. The shooter could still be charged under Penal Code 246.3 because they fired the gun willfully and in a grossly negligent manner that could have resulted in an injury.
Stop and think about your actions. If a reasonable person would say “That’s stupid. What are you doing shooting off a gun with all of these people around?” then firing a gun in such a situation would likely result in a charge of negligent discharge of a firearm.
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If the Gun Goes Off by Accident, is it Negligent Discharge?
No. By virtue of it being an accident, that means you did not have the willful intent to fire the gun. Because of this, you can not be charged under PC 246.3 in any of the following scenarios:
- You dropped the gun, and it went off
- You thought the gun was not loaded
- You were cleaning the gun, and it went off
- You or your teen thought the gun was a toy gun
- You mishandled the gun, and it went off
Potential Defenses Against a Negligent Discharge of a Firearm Charge
If you’ve been charged with negligent discharge of a firearm, there are several potential defenses. Your attorney can explain your options in thorough detail.
If you fired a gun into the air to scare off an intruder, that would be considered a reasonable discharge of a firearm. You should not face charges under PC 246.3 for this action.
You Thought the Gun Was Unloaded
If it’s your own gun, this defense may not fly. It works best if the gun belongs to someone else or someone specifically told you it was unloaded. However, even if the gun is yours, it could be a reasonable defense if another person loaded the gun without your knowledge.
There Was Never a Risk of Harm to Anyone
If, for example, you fire a gun into an empty field where no one was in danger, it’s not negligent discharge.
Penalties for Negligent Discharge of a Firearm
Penal Code 246.3 is what is known as a “wobbler.” That means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the situation. Penalties depend upon which type of charge you receive. Someone with a criminal record or a violent past is much more likely to be charged with a felony.
If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties for negligent discharge of a firearm can include:
- A fine of up to $1,000
- Up to one year in jail
- Summary probation
If you are facing a felony charge for negligent discharge of a firearm, the potential penalties increase dramatically. When arrested on this charge, you could be looking at:
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Up to three years in prison
- Formal probation
Additionally, a felony charge under California Penal Code Section 246.3 will count as a strike under California’s “Three Strikes” law. If you already have a strike on your record, then your prison sentence could double. If you already have two strikes, a conviction will result in a prison sentence of 25 years to life.
Consequences for Immigrants
For anyone not protected by U.S. citizenship, a charge of negligent discharge of a firearm can lead to deportation. The majority of crimes involving guns are considered deportable crimes.
Citizens might be well served by taking a plea bargain in which they plead guilty to get the charges reduced. However, this is likely not a desirable course for those living in the United States who are not U.S. citizens. In these cases, an acquittal in court is the only option that will protect the defendant’s right to remain in the country.
If you have been arrested under Penal Code 246.3, there are a number of other charges that you could also be facing. A few of the most common offenses associated with a PC 246.3 charge are violations of:
California Penal Code Section 246: Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling or Occupied Car
California Penal Code Section 417: Brandishing a Weapon
California Penal Code Section 29800: Felon With a Firearm
All of these charges can lead to steep increases in fines and incarceration time if tacked onto a PC 246.3 violation.
Speak With a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you’ve been charged with negligent discharge of a firearm or face any other gun-related charge, you need an experienced California criminal defense lawyer on your side. Call the Simmrin Law Group or fill out our online contact form for a free, no-obligation consultation. We’re available to take your call 24/7. Do not talk to the police until you talk to us.