Under Penal Code 206 PC, California law defines the crime of torture as the infliction of great bodily injury on a victim to cause extreme pain or suffering, and for the purpose of revenge, persuasion, or any sadistic aim. Torture is a felony punishable by a sentence of up to life in prison.
PC 206 states that “every person who, with the intent to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or for any sadistic purpose, inflicts great bodily injury upon the person of another, is guilty of torture.”
- breaking a person’s leg, who has not paid a debt, to persuade him to pay.
- beating a person severely with a bat out of revenge for some act.
- a robber repeatedly burning a man with a lit cigarette until he/she opens a safe.
A defendant can raise a legal defense to challenge an allegation under this statute. Some defenses include the accused showing that:
- he/she did not act with a criminal purpose.
- the accused was legally insane at the time of the act, and
- he/she acted in self-defense.
The crime is punishable by life in state prison, with the possibility of parole.
Note that 18 U.S.C. 2340 is the federal statute on torture. It is known as the “Torture Act.”
Our California criminal defense attorneys will explain the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define the crime of torture?
- 2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 206 PC?
- 3. What is the punishment for torture in California?
- 4. Does this lead to deportation?
- 5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
- 6. Are there federal torture laws?
- 7. What is the Convention against Torture?
- 8. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define the crime of torture?
The definition of torture under California Penal Code 206 is when:
- the defendant inﬂicted great bodily harm on someone else, and
- when inﬂicting the injury, the defendant intended to cause cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or for any sadistic purpose.1
A person can commit this violent crime by either:
- a single act, or
- a course of conduct.2
“Great bodily injury” means signiﬁcant or substantial physical injury, such as broken bones. It is not required, though, that a victim actually suffer pain for a person to be guilty of torture.3
Note that someone acts for the purpose of extortion if he or she intends to:
- obtain a person’s property with the person’s consent, and
- obtains the person’s consent through the use of force or fear.4
Note too that someone acts with a sadistic purpose if he or she intends to:
- inﬂict pain on someone else, and
- intends this in order to experience pleasure for himself or herself.5
Unlike murder, this offense does not require that the defendant act with premeditation.6
2. Are there defenses to Penal Code 206 PC?
Defense lawyers draw on several legal strategies to attack torture charges under these criminal laws. These include showing that:
- the defendant did not act with a criminal purpose (“lack of intent”).
- the accused was legally insane at the time of the act.
- the defendant acted in self-defense.
2.1 No criminal purpose
A defendant cannot be guilty of torture unless he/she acted with the purpose of:
- persuasion, or
- any other sadistic purpose.
It is a defense, then, for the defendant to show that he/she did not act with any of these goals.
An accused can always assert an insanity defense to torture. The law says a person is insane if:
- he/she did not understand the nature of the act committed, and/or
- he/she could not distinguish between right and wrong.7
If successful, the defense results in the accused being admitted to a state facility for treatment.
A defendant can try to beat a charge by saying that he acted in self-defense.
This defense will work if the accused:
- believed that he was in “imminent danger,”
- believed that force was necessary to stop the danger, and
- used an appropriate level of force in defense.8
3. What is the punishment for torture in California?
Torture under California Penal Code section 206 is a felony offense. The crime is punishable by a life sentence in state prison, with the possibility of parole.
Note that the reason for the severe sentencing is:
- not particularly because of the victim experiencing extreme pain, but
- because of the defendant’s intent to inflict pain for a sadistic purpose.9
4. Does this lead to deportation?
A conviction under this statute will have negative immigration consequences.
A violation of PC 206 is both:
These results mean that a non-citizen defendant convicted of the offense can be either:
5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?
A person cannot get an expungement if convicted of this crime.
As a general rule, expungements are not available for convictions resulting in prison terms.
6. Are there federal torture laws?
18 U.S.C. 2340 is the federal statute on torture. It is known as the “Torture Act.”
Under this law, it is a crime if:
- a U.S. national or a non-U.S. national who is present in the U.S.,
- commits an act of torture, and
- does so outside the U.S.10
Note that acts of torture committed within the U.S. are charged under state laws.
A person convicted under this law can face up to 20 years in prison. If a defendant killed someone in the act of torture, then he/she can be punished with:
- death, or
- life in prison.11
7. What is the Convention against Torture?
The “Convention against Torture” is also known as the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT).
UNCAT is an international agreement among countries that seeks to prevent:
- cruel and inhumane acts of punishment against humans, and
- the degrading treatment of humans.
The Convention mandates that countries have laws in effect that prevent torture.
8. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to torture. These are:
- mayhem – PC 203,
- aggravated battery – PC 243d, and
- corporal injury on an intimate partner – PC 273.5
8.1 Mayhem – PC 203
Penal Code 203 PC is the California statute that defines “mayhem.” This crime is defined as the act of maliciously doing any of the following to another person:
- depriving him/her of a member of his/her body (such as a limb),
- disabling, disfiguring or rendering useless a member of his/her body,
- cutting or disabling his/her tongue,
- putting out his/her eye, or
- slitting his/her nose, ear or lip.
Aggravated mayhem consists of intentionally causing someone:
- a permanent disability or disfigurement, or
- a deprivation of a limb, organ or member.
8.2 Aggravated battery – PC 243d
Penal Code 243d PC is the statute that defines the crime of aggravated battery. This offense is also known as “battery causing serious bodily injury.”
A person commits the crime when he/she:
- strikes another person in a harmful or offensive manner, and
- in doing so causes the person to suffer a serious bodily injury.
Prosecutors may file this charge as a misdemeanor or a felony.
8.3 Corporal injury on an intimate partner – PC 273.5
California Penal Code 273.5 PC makes it a crime to inflict “corporal injury” on a spouse or cohabitant.
“Corporal injury” means any physical injury, whether serious or minor.
The crime is also commonly referred to as:
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We are based in Los Angeles County but create attorney-client relationships throughout the state, including San Bernardino County, Pomona, Pasadena, Long Beach, Torrance, Glendale, and more.
- CALCRIM No. 810 – Torture. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also People v. Odom (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 237.
- CALCRIM No. 810. See also People v. Hamlin (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1412.
- CALCRIM No. 810. See also People v. Hale (1999) 75 Cal.App.4th 94.
- CALCRIM No. 810. See also People V. Norris (1985) 40 Cal.3d 51.
- CALCRIM No. 810. See also People v. Barrera (1993)14 Cal.App.4th 1555.
- CALCRIM No. 810. See also People v. Pre (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 413; People v.Aguilar (1997) 58 Cal.App.4th 1196; and People v.Vital (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 441.
- R v M’Naghten (1843) 8 E.R. 718. See also People v. Serravo, 823 P2d 128 (1992).
- CALCRIM No. 3470 – Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Another. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also People v. Humphrey (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1073.
- People v. Pre (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 413.
- 18 U.S.C. 2340.
- See same.