ASSAULT WITH CAUSTIC CHEMICALS

California Penal Code section 244 PC criminalizes “assault with caustic chemicals.” This is a more serious form of assault than simple assault under the Penal Code section 240.  Simple assault under Penal Code section 240 is typically a misdemeanor, while assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 is prosecuted as a felony.

THE LAW

The elements

To prove you guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Pena Code section 244, the prosecution must prove the following elements of the offense:

  1. You willfully and maliciously;
  2. Placed, threw, or caused to be placed or thrown;
  3. A caustic chemical;
  4. Upon the person of someone else;
  5. With the intention of injuring the person’s flesh or disfiguring his or her body.

The prosecution must prove each and every single of the above elements beyond a reasonable doubt.   That means that if the jury is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that you threw a caustic chemical on the victim, but they are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that you did so willfully and maliciously, then they must return a verdict of Not Guilty.   If the jury is convinced that you did so willfully and maliciously but they are not convinced that you had the intent to injure the alleged victim, then they also must return a verdict of not guilty.   In other words, the prosecutor’s inability to prove even only one element of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 means that you must be exonerated of the whole offense.

“Caustic Chemicals”

A caustic chemical under Penal Code section 244 is any corrosive, flammable substance that can burn living tissue.   Acid, Kerosene, gasoline, petroleum products, or flammable liquids with one hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit or less are examples of caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244.  

Example: Jack drives to a gas station to put gas in his car.  As he picks up the gas pump, a homeless man accosts him.   Jack asks the homeless man to leave him alone, but the homeless man continues to move closer to Jack and demand money.  Short-tempered and furious, Jack uses the gas pump to spray the homeless man with gasoline.  The homeless man quickly begins to retrieve.  As he is walking away, a passer-by throws her half-smoked cigarette at the homeless man, causing his gasoline-doused clothes to catch on fire.  The homeless man suffers severe skin burn. 

Gasoline counts as a caustic chemical under Penal Code section 244.  Jack acted willfully and maliciously when he sprayed the homeless man with gasoline.  However, Jack’s defense attorney can argue that a) he acted in self-defense, as he reasonably believed that that the homeless man posed a threat of imminent bodily harm to him,  and b) he did not intend to injure the homeless man in any way.  The homeless man would not have caught on fire had it not been for the cigarette butt that the malicious passer-by threw at him.  Thus, in this example, both Jack and the passers-by are guilty of simple battery. However, it is not clear whether Jack is guilty of assault with a caustic chemical under Penal Code section 244, as he may not have had the requisite mens rea or intent for this specific offense.

“Willfully and Maliciously”

Willfully and maliciously under code section 244 means acting with intent to cause injury or harm.  If the harm that you caused was accidental, then you did not act willfully and maliciously.   For example, Jack and Jill are living together as girlfriend and boyfriend.  On a cold winter evening, Jack and Jill begin arguing about Jill’s expending habits.  Jill is yelling as Jack is emptying a container of Kerosene into the heater to generate heat in the apartment.  In response, Jack hurls at Jill a litany of insults.  Furious, Jill grabs Jack’s arm, causing the container of Kerosene to spill on her foot.  Jill suffers injuries as a result.  In this example, Jack did not act with any intent to cause Jill any harm.  The spilling of the Kerosene was an accident.  Jack, in other words, did not act willfully and maliciously, and is therefore not guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244.

Now imagine the following scenario:  As Jack is pouring Kerosene into the heater, Jill throws a litany of insults at Jack.  Furious, Jack smashes the container of Kerosene against the wall, in close proximity to Jill.  The kerosene splashes on Jill’s face and disfigures her.  In this example, Jack acted willfully and maliciously.  He knew, and had reason to believe, that smashing the Kerosene against the wall in the vicinity of where Jill was standing would have injured her.  Jack’s defense attorney will argue that, although Jack acted willfully and maliciously, he did not intend for the bottle of Kerosene to hit Jill’s body, as he did not throw it directly at Jill.  This is a weak argument, as a jury is not likely to believe that Jack did not know that smashing the Kerosene in the direction and proximity of Jill would cause her damage.

Assault with Caustic Chemicals versus Assault with a deadly weapon

Assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 and assault with a deadly weapon under Penal Code section 245 are similar in that they both require malicious intent. The difference between the two offenses are the following:

  1. To prove you guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244, the prosecutor must prove that the chemical actually touched the alleged victim’s body. To prove you guilty of assault with a deadly weapon under Penal Code section 245, the prosecutor need not prove that the deadly weapon actually made contact with the alleged victim’s body.  All that the prosecutor needs to prove is that you attempted to injure or touch the alleged victim’s body with a deadly weapon;
  2. To prove you guilty of assault with a deadly weapon under Penal Code section 245, the prosecutor must prove that you used force likely to produce great bodily injury. To prove you guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244, the prosecutor need not prove that the caustic chemical you used was likely to produce harm.  In other words, you can be found guilty of assault with caustic chemicals even if the chemical you used was unlikely to produce serious bodily harm.

PENALTIES TO ASSAULT WITH CAUSTIC CHEMICALS UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 244

Assault with caustic chemicals is prosecuted as a felony in California.  The penalties include felony probation, 2, 3, or 4 years in California State prison, and a maximum fine of up to $10,000.00.

DEFENSES TO ASSAULT WITH CAUSTIC CHEMICALS UNDER PENAL CODE SECTION 244

  • You did not use a caustic chemical

You cannot be found guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 PC if the chemical that you used is not considered a caustic chemical.  Not every substance is considered a caustic chemical.

For example, during a heated argument, Jill splashes orange juice on Jack’s face.  Jack is allergic to orange juice, a fact of which Jill is aware.  He therefore suffers some intense rashes.  While Jill acted maliciously and with intent to cause harm to Jack, orange juice is not considered a caustic chemical under Penal Code section 244 PC.  Thus, while Jill is guilty of battery, she is not guilty assault with a caustic chemical under Penal Code section 244 PC.

Let’s now assume that, instead of orange juice, Jill splashes gasoline on Jack.  While under ordinary circumstances gasoline may not cause harm, it is considered a caustic chemical under Penal Code section 244 PC.  In this scenario, therefore, Jill is guilty of assault with caustic chemical under Penal Code Section 244 PC.

  • You did not act maliciously or intentionally

If you throw caustic chemicals at the alleged victim accidentally, you cannot be found guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244, no matter how negligently you acted or how badly you injured the alleged victim.  The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended for the caustic chemical to make contact with the victim’s body.

For example, during a heated argument, Jill knocks off a bottle of Kerosene form a shelf in the garage.  The kerosene spills on Jack’s head and face.  In this example, Jill may have acted negligently or event recklessly.  However, she had no intention of throwing or spilling the bottle of Kerosene on Jack’s face.  Jill may be guilty of domestic battery for intentionally hitting or striking Jack.  However, she is not guilty of assault with caustic chemical under Penal Code section 244 PC, because she did not have the requisite intent for this specific offense.

  • The caustic chemical did not make contact with the alleged victim’s body.

You are guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 PC only if the chemical actually touched the alleged victim’s body.  For example, during a heated verbal argument, Jack throws a bottle of Kerosene at Jill, with the intention of harming her.  Jill dodges the bottle. The battle smashes against the wall, but the substance never makes contact with Jill’s body.  In this scenario, Jack had the mens rea for committing assault with caustic chemicals.  He intended to hit and harm Jill with the Kerosene.  However, Jack is only guilty of simple assault and not assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244, as the chemical never made contact with Jill.

  • You did not intend to injure or disfigure the alleged victim

You may have intended for the chemical to make contact with the alleged victim, but you may not have intended for the chemical to injure or disfigure the alleged victim.

For example, Jack and Jill get into a heated argument while Jack is repairing his car in the garage.  Jack uses a cloth to wipe some kerosene from the engine of the car.  He uses the same cloth to wipe other substances.  Jill throws some hurtful insights at Jack.  Jack loses his temper and throws the same cloth at Jill.  The Kerosene from the cloth injures Jill’s face.  When he threw the cloth at Jill, Jack did not remember that it still contained kerosene.  If the jury believes that Jack genuinely did not remember that the cloth contained Kerosene, then they cannot find Jack guilty of simple battery, but not assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 PC.  While Jack intended for the cloth to make contact with Jill, he did not intend the Kerosene to make contact with Jill.

You acted in self-defense or defense of others

If you faced imminent bodily harm, or if you knew someone else faced imminent bodily harm, and you used a caustic chemical to deflect this harm, then you cannot be found guilty of assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 PC.  Your defense attorney would have to prove that a) you actually believed you or someone else faced imminent bodily harm and b) your use of the caustic chemical was force reasonably necessary to deflect the harm.

For example, John and Jill get into a heated argument in the garage.  John slaps Jill on the face. Jill picks up a bottle of Kerosene and splashes it on John’s face.  In this example, while Jill might have actually believed that John would continue to slap her, her use of a caustic chemical may not have been force reasonably necessary to deflect that harm.  The prosecution will argue that Jill could have resorted to less extreme means to deflect the harm.  Jill’s attorney might argue that, due to the domestic violence that John had previously inflicted upon Jill, Jill had an actual and reasonable belief that the slap would be followed by a fatal blow.  Therefore, she  had a reasonable and actual belief that the use of the kerosene to deflect any such harm was necessary.

HOW THE LOS ANGELS CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS CAN HELP YOU

Negin understands that often a legal defense lies buried beneath uncovered facts.

Therefore, as part of her conscientious approach to all cases, Negin engages in her own-fact fining of any particular case.  She will thus thoroughly investigate and marshal the specific facts of your case, and tailor a defense accordingly.

For questions about assault with caustic chemicals under Penal Code section 244 PC, or to discuss your case confidentially and for a free consultation with Negin Yamini, call Los Angeles Criminal Attorney today.

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