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. The charge of negligent discharge of a firearm generally comes in to play when there is no fear for your life, but 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. But if you have been involved in a shooting of any kind, you need a good criminal defense lawyer in LA on your side to ensure your rights.
California’s Castle Doctrine
California’s Castle Doctrine (Penal Code Section 198.5) allows you to use deadly force in your own home, to defend yourself and your family, if you “have a reasonable fear of imminent peril or great bodily injury.”
In order to claim self-defense when you have used deadly force (fired a gun, for example), a few things must have happened:
- You knew, or had reason to believe the person had entered your home unlawfully (broken in).
- 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, 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” if you meet these conditions:
- You willfullydischarged the firearm.
- You did it in a grossly negligent
- And 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 meant to pull the trigger. You were doing target practice, shooting at an animal, whatever.
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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.
Some examples of negligent discharge include:
- A teenager fires a BB gun at a target in his yard, but the bullet misses the target and hits a small neighbor child.
- A man uses his hunting rifle to shoot at nuisance birds or squirrels in his urban, residential neighborhood.
- A person fires a gun into the air during a celebration.
Stop and think about it. 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.
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. So, none of these scenarios are negligent discharge:
- You drop the gun and it goes off.
- You thought the gun was unloaded. For example, 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. For example, you were putting a handgun in your purse and it went off.
If you’ve been charged with negligent discharge of a firearm, you have several avenues of defense, that your attorney can explain to you in more detail:
- Self Defense You fired a gun into the air to scare off an intruder. This would not be considered negligent discharge.
- 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.
- 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
Penalties depend upon whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony. Someone with a criminal record or a violent past is much more likely to be charged with a felony.
- Misdemeanor: A fine of up to $100 and up to one year in County jail
- Felony: 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in County jail and a fine of up to $10,000
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 at 310-997-4688 for a free consultation. We’re available to take your call 24/7. Don’t talk to the police until you talk to us.