Penal Code 347
Poisoning Food, Drink, Medicine, or Water in California

California Penal Code 347 PC is the California statute that pertains to the act of poisoning food, drink, medicine, and water.

The section makes it a crime for a person to:

  • Willfully poison food, drink, medicine, or a public water supply; or
  • Falsely report that someone has poisoned any food, drink, medicine, or public water supply.

Penalties

A person that willfully poisons under Penal Code 347 is guilty of a felony. Punishment is imprisonment in the California state prison for:

  • Two years,
  • Four years, or
  • Five years.

An additional three years in prison is imposed if the poisoning causes death or great bodily injury.

The offense of making a false report regarding poisoning is punishable by imprisonment for a period not to exceed one year.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses if a person commits a crime under California Penal Code 347. These include showing that an accused party did not act:

  • Willfully,
  • With knowledge, and/or
  • With malice.

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

california penal code 347 PC poison law criminal defense
California Penal Code 347 PC is the California statute that pertains to the act of poisoning food, drink, medicine, and water.

1. The Legal Definition of Poisoning Food, Drink, Medicine or Water in California

California Penal Code 347 PC makes it a crime to:

  1. Willfully poison certain things or substances; and,
  2. Maliciously make a false report that something has been poisoned,

1.1. Willfully Poisoning

Penal Code 347(a)(1) states that a person is guilty of a felony if he:

  1. Willfully” mixes any poison or harmful substance with any food, drink, medicine, pharmaceutical product, or public water supply; and,
  2. Knows, or should have known, that a person would take or consume the poisoned substance.1

California law defines a “willful” act as one done with a purpose or willingness.2 There is no requirement that the act is committed with any intent to violate the law or injure another person.3

As to number two above, knowledge is determined based on the facts of a given case.

1.2. Maliciously Making a False Report

Under California Penal Code 347(b), it is a crime if a person:

  1. “Maliciously” informs another person that a poison or harmful substance has been, or will be placed in, a food, drink, medicine, pharmaceutical product, or public water supply; and,
  2. Knows that the report is false.

California law states that “maliciously” means an act done:

  • With a wish to annoy or injure someone: or,
  • With an intent to do a wrongful act.4

Malice and knowledge, under this code section, are determined, or shown, based upon all of the facts in a given case.

california poisoning legal defense attorneys
A person accused of poisoning or making a false report, per PC 347, may raise a legal defense on his behalf

2. Legal Defenses

A person accused of poisoning or making a false report, per PC 347, may raise a legal defense on his behalf. A good defense can often get a Penal Code 347 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 347 accusations are:

  1. No willful act;
  2. No knowledge; and/or,
  3. No Malice.

2.1. No Willful Act

This is a defense to a poisoning accusation under Penal Code 347(a)(1). Recall that the poisoning must be done willfully, or with a specific purpose. Therefore, a defendant could attempt to show that he is not guilty under this code section because his actions were not willful (e.g., he poisoned something by accident).

2.2. No Knowledge.

This is a defense to accusations under both Penal Code 347(a)(1) and Penal Code 347(b). Recall that, per PC 347(a)(1), a defendant must poison something, AND, know (or, should have known) that another person would consume the poisoned substance. A defense, therefore, is that an accused never knew, or even should have known, that a person would get poisoned.

Likewise, a PC 347(b) showing requires that a defendant made a malicious report, AND, knew that the report was false. An accused, therefore, can raise the defense that he did not know his report or information was false. For example, maybe he made a statement regarding a poisoning based upon the reasonable belief that the statement was true.

2.3. No Malice

This is a defense to an accusation brought under Penal Code 347(b). Recall that a person is guilty under this code section only if he made a false report with malice. Again, this means doing an act with the intent to annoy, injure, or to do something wrongful. A solid defense then becomes that a defendant is innocent of a PC 347(b) charge because he did not act “maliciously.”

imprisonment punishment california pc 347
A person that commits a poisoning under 347(a)(1) is guilty of a felony. The act is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison.

3. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

The offenses of poisoning and making a false report, under Penal Code 347, receive different penalties.

A person that commits a poisoning under 347(a)(1) is guilty of a felony. The act is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for:

  • Two years,
  • Four years, or
  • Five years.5

If the above crime resulted in a person's death or in great bodily injury, the defendant receives an additional term of three years in jail.6

A defendant guilty of making a false report under 347(b) is guilty of a crime punishable by a jail term not to exceed one year.7 The term is served in either:

  • The state prison; or,
  • The county jail.8

4. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to the poisoning acts set forth in PC 347. These other crimes are:

  1. Vandalism – Penal Code 594;
  2. Involuntary manslaughter – Penal Code 192(b); and,
  3. Trespass – Penal Code 602.

4.1. Vandalism – Penal Code 594

Penal Code 594 PC, California's vandalism and graffiti law, prohibits maliciously doing any of the following things to someone else's property:

  • Defacing it with graffiti or other written material,
  • Damaging it, or
  • Destroying it.9

The penalties for California vandalism charges generally depend on the dollar value of the damage that was done.

If the damage is $400 or more, vandalism is a wobbler under California law. The penalties include:

  • A jail sentence of between one and three years; and/or
  • A fine of up to $10,000, or even more if the damage is very extensive.10

If the damage is worth less than $400, vandalism is punishable by misdemeanor penalties of:

  • Up to one year in county jail; and/or,
  • A maximum fine of $1,000.11

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.12

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.”13

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.14

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 $10,000.15

4.3. Trespass – 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.16

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

  • Up to six months in county jail; and/or,
  • A fine of up to $1,000.17

However, certain kinds of trespass in California may lead only to infraction charges, with penalties consisting of only a small fine.18

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.19

Were you accused of poisoning or making a false report of poisoning in California? Call us for help…

california poisoning legal defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAWSUIT

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, under Penal Code 347, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. (For cases in Nevada, please see our article on NRS 202.170 poisoning food, drink, water or medicine in Nevada.) We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.

Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 347(a)(1) PC. Note that a water supply may include a spring, well, or reservoir.

  2. California Penal Code 7(1) PC.

  3. See same.

  4. California Penal Code 7(4) PC.

  5. California Penal Code 347(a)(1) PC.

  6. California Penal Code 347(a)(2) PC. “Great bodily injury” is a legal term that basically means what it says…great bodily injury. Significant or substantial injuries fall under this category. By contrast, insignificant or even moderate injuries do not. The facts of the case will show whether or not an injury is of a “great bodily” nature.

  7. California Penal Code 347(b) PC.

  8. See same.

  9. California Penal Code 594 PC.

  10. See same.

  11. See same.

  12. California Penal Code 192(b) PC.

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

  14. California Penal Code 192(c) PC.

  15. California Penal Code 193 PC.

  16. California Penal Code 602 PC.

  17. See same.

  18. California Penal Code 602.8 PC.

  19. California Penal Code 601 PC.

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