Penal Code 244 PC sets forth the California law as to “assault with caustic chemicals.” This section makes it a crime to throw or place caustic or flammable substances on someone with the intent to injure or disfigure that person.
The language of the code section reads that:
244. 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.
Penalties for assault with a caustic chemical
PC 244 assault with caustic chemicals is a felony in California.
Possible penalties include:
- 2-4 years in California state prison; and/or
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000). 1 2
Legal defenses to charges of assault with a caustic chemical often include:
- It was an accident,
- The defendant did not intend to injure or disfigure the other person, or
- The defendant was acting in self-defense or defense of someone else.
To help you better understand the crime of assault with caustic chemicals, our California criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. The legal definition of “assault with a caustic chemical”
- 2. Penalties for PC 244
- 3. Legal defenses to assault with caustic chemicals
- 4. Related offenses
1. The legal definition of “assault with a caustic chemical”
California Penal Code 244 PC defines “assault with caustic chemicals” as:
- Willfully and maliciously,
- Placing, throwing, or causing to be placed or thrown,
- Any caustic chemical, a corrosive substance, flammable substance or vitriol,
- Onto someone else;
- With the intent to injure the other person’s flesh or disfigure his/her body.3
Specifically, this section provides:
“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.”
1.1. What counts as a “caustic chemical” under California PC 244?
“Caustic chemicals” are defined generally as substances that can burn or corrode living tissue.
“Vitriol” is one type of caustic substance. It refers specifically to sulfuric acid and related compounds.
Penal Code 244 also applies to flammable substances that have a flashpoint of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
“Flashpoint” refers to the lowest temperature at which a liquid’s vapor can ignite. The lower the flashpoint, the more easily the substance ignites.
Examples: Gasoline has a flash point of approximately -40 degrees F. It is extremely flammable. It is covered by Penal Code 244.
Motor oil, on the other hand, does not ignite until well above 400 degrees F. It is not a flammable substance for purposes of PC 244. 4
1.2. The legal meaning of “willfully and maliciously”
A person acts “willfully” if he or she does something on purpose.
A person acts “maliciously” when he or she:
- Does a wrongful act on purpose, or
- Acts with the unlawful intent to disturb, defraud, annoy or injure someone else.5
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 Reyna’s garage and steals a tank of kerosene. Reyna catches him in the act and grabs him by the jacket. Some of the kerosene splashes into Reyna’s eyes.
Scott is guilty of the Penal Code 495 PC burglary for breaking into Reyna ‘s garage to commit a crime (in this case, 484 PC petty theft). But because he did not splash kerosene on Reyna willfully and maliciously he is not guilty of assault with a caustic chemical.
2. Penalties for PC 244
Unlike simple assault in Penal Code 240 PC, assault with dangerous chemicals is a felony.
Potential penalties can include:
- Two (2), three (3) or four (4) years in California state prison; and/or
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).6
Or instead of prison, the judge can sentence the defendant to felony (formal) probation.
If sentenced to probation, the defendant will serve at most up to a year in county jail. But he or she may still have to pay a fine and may be subject o various conditions of probation, such as:
- Regular meetings with a probation officer,
- Payment of victim restitution,
- Participation in individual or group therapy,
- Performance of community service or community labor, and/or
- Compliance with a protective order to stay away from and not harass the victim.
3. Legal defenses to assault with caustic chemicals
Many common legal defenses can help a defendant avoid conviction for assault with a caustic chemical. Some of the most common include:
The defendant did not act willfully or maliciously
A key requirement under Penal Code 244 is that the defendant acted willfully and maliciously.
If the alleged victim was harmed as the result of an accident, the defendant should not be found guilty – even if the defendant acted with criminal negligence or the victim was badly injured.
The defendant did not intend to injure or disfigure the other person
In order for a defendant to be found guilty under Penal Code 244, he or she must have intended to injure or disfigure the victim.
This is related to, but not quite the same as, the requirement that the defendant acted maliciously.
Example: Corinne is fighting with her co-worker Mark in the company breakroom. During the argument, she picks up a mop bucket and throws the contents onto Mark.
Corinne doesn’t realize there is anything other than dirty mop water in the bucket. But, in fact, the bucket contains a strong commercial detergent, which burns Mark’s arms.
Corinne did act willfully and maliciously. But she did not intend to injure or disfigure Mark. So while she may be guilty of the crime of 242 PC battery she is not guilty of assault with a caustic chemical.
The defendant acted in self-defense or defense of others
Self-defense (or defense of another) is a valid legal defense to charges of assault with caustic chemicals. There are three requirements for self-defense/defense of another in connection with Penal Code 244 charges:
- Reasonable belief of an imminent danger of being killed, injured, or touched unlawfully,
- Reasonable belief that force was needed to prevent that from happening, and
- Use of no more force than was necessary to prevent it.7
4. Related offenses
Several California crimes are closely related to Penal Code 244, assault with caustic chemicals. Some are less serious versions of California’s assault and battery laws.
Thus they can often be used as a plea bargain to let a defendant:
- Serve a shorter sentence,
- Serve a sentence in jail instead of prison, or
- Increase the likelihood of being sentenced to probation instead of incarceration.
Two of the most common alternatives to PC 244 charges are:
4.1. Simple battery — Penal Code 242 PC
Even though PC 244 is called “assault,” it is really a form of the California crime of “battery.”
Under Penal 240, the California crime of assault describes an attempt or a threat to use force or violence.
Penal Code 242 battery, on the other hand, is the actual infliction of force or violence.
As Burbank criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse8 explains:
“Penal Code 244 may be called ‘assault with caustic chemicals.’ But because it requires that the dangerous chemicals make contact with the victim’s body, it is actually a form of battery in California.”
Simple battery is a misdemeanor, punishable at most by:
- Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).9
4.2. Assault with a deadly weapon (“ADW”) — Penal Code 245(a)(1)
Assault with caustic chemicals is closely related to Penal Code 245a1 PC – California’s law on assault with a deadly weapon (ADW).
But there are two main differences between Penal Code sections 244 and 245:
- Assault with caustic chemicals requires that the chemicals actually touch the other person’s body. But a defendant can be guilty of ADW simply by attempting to injure or touch another person.
- In order to be guilty of ADW, a defendant must use force that is likely to produce great bodily injury. But someone can be guilty of assault with caustic chemicals even if the chemical is not of a type or an amount that can cause serious harm.10
Penalties for assault with a deadly weapon
Penal Code 245(a)(1) is a California “wobbler” offense. That means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on such factors as:
- Whether the weapon was a firearm;
- How badly the alleged victim was injured; and
- Whether the victim was a law enforcement officer or another similarly protected public official.
As a felony, assault with a deadly weapon can be punished the same as assault with caustic chemicals.
But as a misdemeanor ADW carries a potential penalty of:
- Up to one (1) year in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).
For additional help…
If you have been charged with assault with caustic chemicals we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
Call us to discuss your case with an experienced California assault and battery lawyer.
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 throughout California.
We can also help if you have been charged with a violation of Nevada’s assault and battery laws.
- California Penal Code 244 PC: “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.”
- Same. See also Penal Code 672 PC: “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.”
- Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) 877: “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). 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.”
- See, e.g., The Safety Storage Centre, Flash Points of Common Flammable Substances.
- CALCRIM 877, endnote 3.
- Penal Code 244, endnote 1; Penal Code 672 PC, endnote 2.
- CALCRIM 505 – Justifiable Homicide: Self-Defense or Defense of Another.
- Neil Shouse and our other Burbank criminal defense attorneys have conducted dozens of jury trials and juvenile adjudication hearings, including ones involving felonies such as assault with caustic chemicals.
- Penal Code 243 (a): “A battery is punishable by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
- People v. Day (1926) 199 Cal.78.