Updated March 11, 2020
In Penal Code 205 PC, California law defines aggravated mayhem as intentionally causing someone a permanent disability or disfigurement, or to deprive the person of a limb, organ or member of the body. This offense is a felony punishable by life in state prison.
- As part of a “hazing” ritual for a college fraternity, several fraternity members tie up a new recruit and tattoo the fraternity’s logo on his buttocks against his will.
- Outraged at her boyfriend, Lisa breaks into his apartment, binds him with rope, and cuts off his ring finger.
- In the commission of a bank robbery, Diego takes his illegal belt buckle knife and cuts the security guard’s face in several spots.
Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused under PC 205. These include showing that:
- a victim was not disabled or disfigured,
- there was no indifference to the physical well-being of another, and
- there was no probable cause to stop or arrest the defendant.
Aggravated mayhem is charged as a felony under California law (as opposed to a misdemeanor or an infraction). The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for life with the possibility of parole.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. What is the legal definition of aggravated mayhem?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to PC 205 violations?
- 3. What is the punishment for a conviction?
- 4. Related laws
1. What is the legal definition of aggravated mayhem?
Penal Code 205 PC is the California statute that makes “aggravated mayhem” a crime.
In order for a defendant to be guilty of this offense, all of the following must be true:
- the defendant unlawfully and maliciously disabled or disfigured someone permanently, or deprived someone else of a limb, organ or part of his body;
- when the defendant acted, he intended to permanently disable or disfigure the other person, or deprive him of a limb, organ or part of his/her body; and
- under the circumstances, the defendant’s act showed extreme indifference to the physical or psychological well-being of the other person.1
As to intent, a prosecutor must prove that a defendant specifically intended to inflict the type of disfigurement or injury that he in fact caused in order to successfully convict him.
2. Legal Defenses
A person can try to challenge a PC 205 accusation by raising a legal defense. A legal defense may work to reduce or dismiss an aggravated mayhem charge.
Three common defenses to Penal Code 205 charges include:
- no disablement or disfigurement;
- no intent or no indifference to the well-being of another; and/or,
- no probable cause.
2.1. No disablement or disfigurement
Please recall that one of the possible elements in an aggravated mayhem case is that a defendant must have disabled or disfigured a victim. This means that it is a valid legal defense for an accused to show that, while he may have injured a victim, the injury did not rise to the level of a disablement or disfigurement (e.g., perhaps the accused merely made a small cut in an isolated part of a victim’s leg).
2.2. No intent or no indifference to the well-being of another
Please also recall that a defendant can only be found guilty under PC 205 if he acted with either:
- a specific intent to cause disablement or deprivation, or
- an indifference to the well-being of another.
It is a solid defense, therefore, for an accused to show that he did not act with either this requisite intent or indifference. For example, it is quite possible that he inflicted serious injuries on another while defending himself.
2.3. No probable cause
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that police must have probable cause before they can detain or arrest a suspect of a crime.
If a person was stopped or arrested for violating PC 205, and there was no probable cause, then any evidence obtained following the improper stop/arrest could get excluded from the case. This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.
3. What is the punishment for a conviction?
Aggravated mayhem is charged as a felony under California law.2 The crime is punishable by imprisonment in the California state prison for life with the possibility of parole.3
4. Related offenses
There are three laws related to aggravated mayhem. These are:
- mayhem – PC 203;
- torture – PC 206; and,
- assault with a deadly weapon – PC 245(a)(1).
4.1. Mayhem – PC 203
“Mayhem” is defined in California Penal Code 203 PC as the act of unlawfully or maliciously doing any of the following to another person:
- depriving him of a member of his body (such as a limb),
- disabling, disfiguring or rendering useless a member of his body,
- cutting or disabling his tongue,
- putting out his eye, or
- slitting his nose, ear or lip.4
The major difference between PC 203 simple mayhem and PC 205 aggravated mayhem lies in the required intent of the defendant.5
For ordinary mayhem, the defendant needs to have acted with an unlawful intent but does not need to have intended to inflict the kind of injury that results in a mayhem conviction (e.g., a disability or disfigurement, or loss of a body part).6
Mayhem is a felony under California law. The crime is punishable by:
- imprisonment in the California state prison for two, four, or eight years, and
- a fine of up to $10,000.7
4.2. Torture – PC 206
The definition of the crime of “torture” in California is:
- inflicting great bodily injury on another person,
- with the intent to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering,
- for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion or any sadistic purpose.8
Criminal intent is key to the definition of Penal Code 206 torture. Specifically, the defendant needs to have intended to cause cruel or extreme pain to the victim.9
But it does not matter whether the victim actually experienced cruel or extreme pain. The law focuses on the mindset of the defendant and not the experience of the victim.10
Torture is charged as a felony in California. The offense is punishable by:
- a life sentence in the California state prison, and
- a fine of up to $10,000.11
4.3. Assault with a deadly weapon – PC 245(a)(1)
The offense consists of an assault that is committed either with:
- a so-called “deadly weapon,” or
- by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury (see Penal Code 245(a)(4)).12
Assault with a deadly weapon is a “wobbler” under California law, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
The maximum jail sentence for assault with a deadly weapon as a misdemeanor is one year in county jail.13
The basic felony sentence for the crime is two, three, or four years in state prison.14
Were you accused of aggravated mayhem in California? Call us for help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, per Penal Code 205, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 by phone or on social media.
(For similar accusations in Nevada, please see our article on Nevada “Mayhem” Laws (NRS 200.280)).
- California Penal Code 205 PC. This code section states: “A person is guilty of aggravated mayhem when he or she unlawfully, under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the physical or psychological well-being of another person, intentionally causes permanent disability or disfigurement of another human being or deprives a human being of a limb, organ, or member of his or her body. For purposes of this section, it is not necessary to prove an intent to kill. Aggravated mayhem is a felony punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for life with the possibility of parole.”
- See same.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 203 PC.
- People v. Park (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 61.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 204 PC.
- California Penal Code 206 PC.
- CALCRIM 810 – Torture.
- See same.
- California Penal Code 206.1 PC.
- California Penal Code 245 PC.
- California Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC.
- See same.