California Penal Code 244 PC describes the crime of "assault with caustic chemicals"—a variation on ordinary California assault.1
Whereas simple assault is a California misdemeanor, assault with caustic chemicals under PC 244 carries California felony penalties. In fact, assault with a caustic chemical is punished even more harshly than the similarly serious offense of PC 217.1(a) assault on a public official.2
The legal definition of assault with chemicals
The legal definition of assault with caustic chemicals is as follows:
- The defendant willfully and maliciously placed, threw or caused to be placed or thrown any caustic chemical, corrosive substance, flammable substance or vitriol on someone else; and
- When the defendant did so, s/he intended to injure the other person's flesh or disfigure his/her body.3
“Willfully” means that the defendant acted willingly or on purpose. “Maliciously” means that s/he did a wrongful act intentionally, or acted with the unlawful intent to disturb, defraud, annoy or injure someone else.4 Caustic chemicals are generally defined as agents that can burn living tissue.
Example: Scott is unemployed and living in an RV. He needs kerosene to run a space heater and heat his RV in winter, but he has no money to pay for it.
So Scott breaks into his neighbor Willa's garage and steals a tank of kerosene. Willa catches him doing this before he can leave the garage. Scott tries to run away with the kerosene, but Willa grabs him by the jacket.
In the struggle, a large amount of kerosene splashes out of the tank and hits Willa's face. Some of the kerosene gets into her eyes, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.
Scott is guilty of burglary for breaking into Willa's garage to steal kerosene. But because he did not splash kerosene on her willfully and maliciously, he is not guilty of assault with a caustic chemical.
The substances covered by California's "assault with a caustic chemical" law include gasoline, petroleum products or flammable liquids with a flashpoint of one hundred fifty (150) degrees Fahrenheit or less.5
Example: Kim is a high school girl who is mad at her friend Rashida for “stealing” her boyfriend.
To get even with Rashida, Kim invites her to go for a ride in her car and then stops for gas. Instead of filling up the gas tank, Kim uses the gas pump to “accidentally” spray Rashida with gasoline.
Gasoline counts as a caustic chemical. So Kim may be charged with PC 244 assault with caustic chemicals in a juvenile court.
Difference between assault with caustic chemicals and assault with a deadly weapon (ADW)
Penal Code 244 PC assault with a caustic chemical bears some resemblance to the related California offense of Penal Code 245 PC assault with a deadly weapon (ADW).6
The differences between these two crimes are:
- You are only guilty of assault with caustic chemicals if the chemical actually touched the other person's body, whereas you can be guilty of ADW even if you only attempted to injure or touch another person; and
- You are only guilty of ADW if you used force likely to produce great bodily injury—but you can be guilty of assault with caustic chemicals even if you only used an amount or kind of chemical that was incapable of producing serious harm.7
According to Burbank criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse8:
“Even though California Penal Code 244 claims to describe a crime called ‘assault with caustic chemicals,' that law actually describes a crime that is more similar to California battery—since it requires that the dangerous chemicals make contact with the victim's body.”
Assault with dangerous chemicals is a felony in California.9
The potential penalties are:
- Felony (formal) probation;
- Two (2), three (3) or four (4) years in California state prison; and/or
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).10
If you or a loved one is charged with caustic chemical assault, one of the following common legal defenses may help you get these charges reduced or dismissed:
You did not act willfully or maliciously
Acting willfully and maliciously is one of the elements of assault with caustic chemicals.11
If you throw harmful chemicals onto someone by accident, you are not guilty under Penal Code 244—no matter how negligent you were or how badly injured the victim was.
You did not intend to injure or disfigure the other person
Intent to injure or disfigure the victim by throwing chemicals on him/her is another element of assault with caustic chemicals.12
This potential defense is related to but distinct from the defense of not acting willfully or maliciously.
Example: Corinne is fighting with her husband Mark. In a fit of rage, Corinne picks up a mop bucket and throws the liquid contents onto Mark. Corinne thinks that there is only dirty mop water in the bucket and intends only to humiliate Mark.
But it turns out that the bucket contains a strong cleaning solution, which burns Mark's arms and hands.
Corinne did act willfully and maliciously. But she did not know she was throwing caustic chemicals at Mark and did not intend to injure or disfigure him. So she is not guilty of assault with a caustic chemical (even though she may be guilty of a lesser offense like battery).
You acted in self-defense or defense of others
Self-defense (or defense of others) is another valid legal defense to assault with caustic chemicals charges.13
If you reasonably believed that you or someone else was in danger of being injured or touched unlawfully—and you used caustic chemicals as a form of reasonable force to respond to that threat—then you may be not guilty of PC 244 thanks to the legal defense of self-defense.14
Call us for help…
For questions about the crime of Penal Code 244 PC assault with caustic chemicals, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local criminal law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
1 Penal Code 244 PC – Assault with caustic chemicals. (“Any person who willfully and maliciously places or throws, or causes to be placed or thrown, upon the person of another, any vitriol, corrosive acid, flammable substance, or caustic chemical of any nature, with the intent to injure the flesh or disfigure the body of that person, is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three or four years. As used in this section, “flammable substance” means gasoline, petroleum products, or flammable liquids with a flashpoint of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or less.”)
See also Penal Code 241 PC – Assault; punishment [compare to penalties for chemical assault]. (“(a) An assault is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months, or by both the fine and imprisonment.”)
See also Penal Code 217.1(a) PC - Assault on a public official.
3 Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 877 – Assault with Caustic Chemicals ((Pen. Code, § 244). (“The defendant is charged [in Count ] with (placing/ [or] throwing) caustic chemicals on someone else [in violation of Penal Code section 244]. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1 The defendant willfully and maliciously (placed[,]/ threw[,]/ caused to be placed[,]/ [or] caused to be thrown) any (caustic chemical[,]/ corrosive acid[,]/ flammable substance[,]/ [or] vitriol) on someone else; [AND] 2 When the defendant acted, (he/she) intended to injure the flesh of or disfigure the other person's body(;/.) <Give element 3 when instructing on self-defense or defense of another> [AND 3 The defendant did not act (in self-defense/ [or] in defense of someone else).]”)
4 CALCRIM 877 – Assault with Caustic Chemicals (Pen. Code, § 244). (“Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose. Someone acts maliciously when he or she intentionally does a wrongful act or when he or she acts with the unlawful intent to disturb, defraud, annoy, or injure someone else.”)
5 CALCRIM 877 – Assault with Caustic Chemicals (Pen. Code, § 244). (“[A flammable substance includes gasoline, petroleum products, or flammable liquids with a flashpoint of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or less.]”)
6 Penal Code 245 PC – Assault with deadly weapon or force likely to produce great bodily injury; punishment [compare to California Penal Code 244 PC]. (“(a)(1) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment. (2) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another with a firearm shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not less than six months and not exceeding one year, or by both a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) and imprisonment. (3) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another with a machinegun, as defined in Section 16880, or an assault weapon, as defined in Section 30510 or 30515, or a .50 BMG rifle, as defined in Section 30530, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for 4, 8, or 12 years. (4) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.”)
7 People v. Day (1926) 199 Cal.78, 85-86. (“An analysis of the two code sections used as the basis for the two counts demonstrates that the elements requisite for a conviction under section 244 of the Penal Code [assault with a caustic chemical] are not identical with the elements required under section 245. Section 244 requires proof of the fact that the acid actually touched the person of another. No proof is required by section 245 that the means or force likely to produce great bodily injury was actually exerted against the person of another. Under section 244 the defendant could not be found guilty of the specific offense if the attempt to throw or place acid upon the person of another failed of fruition. Under section 245 the defendant would be guilty although the assault was not actually consummated. By section 245 proof is required that the means or force used must be likely to produce great bodily injury. While it may oftentimes happen that the throwing of the acids described by section 244 of the Penal Code would have the result of producing great bodily injury, the fact that it does so, or even that it will have the properties of doing so, is not required by said section. The crime is complete if any quantity of acid so described, however small in quantity or however weak in strength and however incapable of producing great bodily harm, is thrown or placed upon the person of another, if done wilfully and maliciously with the intent to injure the flesh or to disfigure to the slightest extent the body of another. It is apparent, therefore, that the two crimes as designated and described by the two sections of the Penal Code are separate and distinct offenses although they may well arise out of the same transaction.”)
8 Our Burbank criminal defense attorneys have conducted dozens of jury trials and juvenile adjudication hearings and have experience defending violent crimes like assault with caustic chemicals.
9 Penal Code 244 PC – Assault with caustic chemicals, endnote 1, above.
See also Penal Code 672 PC – Offenses for which no fine prescribed [such as assault with caustic chemicals]; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. (“Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed, the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies, in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”).
11 CALCRIM 877 – Assault with Caustic Chemicals (Pen. Code, § 244), endnote 3, above.
14 CALCRIM 3470 - Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another (Non-Homicide [applies to assault with caustic chemicals]). ("The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another) if:  The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone else/ [or] <insert name of third party>) was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury [or was in imminent danger of being touched unlawfully];  The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND  The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.")