Penal Code 374.3 PC - Illegal Dumping of Waste in California

California Penal Code 374.3 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “illegal dumping.” Under this code section, illegal dumping is the disposing of garbage, waste and other matter on public or private property.

Examples of illegal dumping are when:

  • After a full day of trimming trees and bushes, Terry's Landscape Company discards the debris upon a public park;
  • Kyle and his friends throw empty beer bottles on his neighbor's lawn without the neighbor's consent; and,
  • In paving a nearby street, Black Top LLC throws a few buckets of stone upon a private roadway.


A person that illegally dumps matter under 374.3 PC is guilty of an infraction. The offense is punishable by a fine. The amount of the fine ranges from $250 to more than $3,000, depending on the number of times a person commits the offense.


Luckily, there are several legal defenses available if a person commits a crime under this section. These include showing that an accused party acted:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

accumulated garbage as an example of illegal dumping
California Penal Code 374.3 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of “illegal dumping.”

1. When is illegal dumping a crime in California?

California Penal Code 374.3(a) makes it a crime to dump “waste matter” under four circumstances. These are when it is dumped:

  1. Upon a public or private road or highway, including any portion of a right-of-way;
  2. In or upon private property that is accessible to the public by easement or license;
  3. Upon private property without the owner's consent; and,
  4. In or upon a public park or other public property, other than property designated for the purpose of dumping garbage.1

Under PC 374.3(b), it is also a crime to place, deposit, or dump the following matter on any of the property noted above:

  • Rocks,
  • Concrete,
  • Asphalt, and
  • Dirt.2

Penal Code 374(b) defines “waste matter” as:

discarded, used, or left-over substance including, but not limited to, a lighted or nonlighted cigarette, cigar, match, or any flaming or glowing material, or any garbage, trash, refuse, paper, container, packaging or construction material, carcass of a dead animal, any nauseous or offensive matter of any kind, or any object likely to injure any person or create a traffic hazard.3

2. Legal Defenses

A person accused of illegal dumping, per PC 374.3, may challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a Penal Code 374.3 charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to raise a defense on his behalf.

Three common defenses to PC 374.3 accusations are:

  1. Consent,
  2. Durres, and
  3. Necessity.

2.1. Consent

This is a defense to the dumping of waste on private property. Recall that this is a crime only if a person dumps the garbage without the consent of the property owner. Therefore, it is a valid legal defense for an accused to show that he dumped the matter in question only after first gaining the property owner's consent.

2.2. Duress

Duress is a somewhat common legal defense in which an accused basically says: “He made me do it.” In asserting the defense, though, an accused has to show that he performed an act because he believed his life was in immediate danger if he did not commit the act. In other words, the defense applies in situations where a person commits a crime (e.g., dumping illegally) because somebody threatened to kill him if the crime was not committed.

2.3. Necessity

Under a necessity defense, a defendant essentially tries to avoid guilt by showing that he had a sufficiently good reason to commit the crime.4 People sometimes refer to this defense as “guilty with an explanation.” In the context of discarding garbage illegally, an accused could attempt to show that he committed the crime since he had no other choice (e.g., because of an emergency).

attorney reviewing documents
A person accused of illegal dumping, per PC 374.3, may challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense.

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

A person that violates Penal Code 374.3 is guilty of an infraction.5

The penalty for committing this crime is a fine. The amount of the fine will depend on the number of times a person dumps illegally.

This means the fine is:

  • Between $250 and $1,000 for a first offense;
  • Between $500 and $1,500 for a second offense; and,
  • Between $750 and $3,000 (or more) for a third offense.6

Please note that, Per PC 374.3, a separate violation occurs for every day that the waste or other matter remains dumped illegally.7

Also note that the above fines will double if the garbage that was dumped includes used tires.8

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to Penal Code 374.3 PC. These are:

  1. Illegally Dumping “Commercial Quantities” – Penal Code 374.3(h)(1)
  2. Vandalism – Penal Code 594; and,
  3. Trespassing – Penal Code 602.

4.1. Illegally Dumping “Commercial Quantities” – Penal Code 374.3(h)(1)

California Penal Code 374.3(h)(1) imposes the same laws discussed above, but in the specific context of dumping “commercial quantities.”

Penal Code 374.3(h)(2) defines “commercial quantities” as:

an amount of waste matter generated in the course of a trade, business, profession, or occupation, or an amount equal to or in excess of one cubic yard.9

The illegal dumping in commercial quantities is a California misdemeanor. The penalties can include up to six months in jail and a fine in the following amount:

  • Between $1,000 and $3,000 for a first offense;
  • Between $3,000 and $6,000 for a second offense; and,
  • Between $6,000 and $10,000 for a third offense.10

4.2. Involuntary Manslaughter – Penal Code 192(b)

California Penal Code 192(b) PC makes it a crime in California to commit involuntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when one person kills another unintentionally, either

  1. While committing a crime that is not an inherently dangerous felony; or,
  2. While committing a lawful act which might produce death, without due caution.11

Under Penal Code 192(b), a key feature of California's involuntary manslaughter law is that it does not require intent to kill another person—unlike Penal Code 187 murder, which requires “malice aforethought.”12

Please note that California's involuntary manslaughter law does not include actions that fit the above definition but involve a car. Those will be charged under California's vehicular manslaughter laws.13

Involuntary manslaughter is a felony under California law. Possible penalties include:

  • Two, three, or four years in jail; and/or,
  • A fine of up to $10,000.14

4.3. Trespassing – Penal Code 602

California Penal Code 602 PC prohibits the crime known as criminal trespass. A person commits this crime when he:

  1. Enters, or remains on, someone else's property; and,
  2. Does so without permission or a right to do so.15

In most cases, California trespass is a misdemeanor punishable by:

  • Up to six months in county jail; and/or,
  • A fine of up to $1,000.16

However, certain kinds of trespass in California may lead only to infraction charges, with penalties consisting of only a small fine.17

A person guilty of “aggravated trespass” will face felony charges and could receive a jail sentence of:

  • 16 months;
  • Two years; or,
  • Three years.

“Aggravated trespass” is when a person:

  1. Threatens to injure someone; and then,
  2. Enters their home or workplace without permission.18

Call us for help…

california illegal dumping of waste legal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAWFIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, under Penal Code 374.3, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM. (For similar cases in Nevada, please visit our page on Nevada "Littering" Laws.)

Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 374.3(a) PC.

  2. California Penal Code 374.3(b) PC.

  3. California Penal Code 374(b) PC.

  4. See, e.g., Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions ("CALCRIM") 3403.

  5. California Penal Code 374.3(c) PC.

  6. California Penal Code 374.3(e) PC.

  7. California Penal Code 374.3(c) PC.

  8. California Penal Code 374.3(e) PC.

  9. California Penal Code 374.3(h)(2) PC.

  10. California Penal Code 374.3(h)(1) PC.

  11. California Penal Code 192(b) PC.

  12. California Penal Code 187 PC – Murder [contrast with the definition of involuntary manslaughter]. (“(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”)

  13. California Penal Code 192(c) PC.

  14. California Penal Code 193 PC.

  15. California Penal Code 602 PC.

  16. See same.

  17. California Penal Code 602.8 PC.

  18. California Penal Code 601 PC.

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