Most people know that you can face criminal penalties for firing a gun at an occupied car in California —but fewer people are aware that it is also a crime to throw objects at a car or other vehicle on a public road under California Vehicle Code 23110 VC.1
And even though California's law against throwing substances at motor vehicles provides for harsher penalties for people who throw destructive items with intent to cause great bodily injury/harm, the law punishes people who throw anything at a motor vehicle—even objects that aren't particularly dangerous.2
The legal definition of throwing a substance or object at a car
Vehicle Code 23110 has two sections. Each section sets out the legal definition of a different form of the crime of throwing a substance or object at a motor vehicle.3
Under California Vehicle Code 23110(a), you commit the offense of throwing something at a motor vehicle if you:
- Throw any substance;
- At a motor vehicle or the occupant of a motor vehicle;
- On a highway.4
A “motor vehicle” means any vehicle that is self-propelled.5 And a “highway” means any road or other place that is publicly maintained and open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel.6
It is not necessary that the object that is thrown be dangerous7--or that the vehicle be moving at the time that the substance or object is thrown at it.8
Example: While driving down the street, Charles sees his girlfriend Katrina getting into a car outside a bar with another man. Charles can tell immediately that Katrina is cheating on him.
So Charles follows the man's car with his own car. When the man's car is stopped at a stoplight, Charles pulls up alongside it and tosses the soda he is drinking at the driver's side window.
Charles is guilty of throwing a substance at a motor vehicle under VC 23110(a)—even though the other car was stopped and the soda was not particularly dangerous.
Vehicle Code 23110(b) VC describes a more serious form of the crime of throwing things at automobiles.
You violate this section of the law when you:
- Maliciously and willfully;
- Throw or project any rock, brick, bottle, metal or other missile or any other substance capable of doing serious bodily harm at a motor vehicle or an occupant thereof;
- With intent to cause great bodily injury.9
“Willfully” means willingly or on purpose. “Maliciously” means that you intended to injure another person or do a wrongful act.10
Example: Miguel is crossing the street in a crosswalk when he is almost hit by a speeding driver.
Enraged, Miguel runs after the car and catches up with it at a stoplight. He picks up a large, sharp rock and throws it at the car. It shatters the driver's side window and just misses hitting the driver's head.
Miguel has violated California Vehicle Code 23110(b) by throwing a rock at a vehicle with intent to cause serious bodily harm.
This form of the crime of throwing an object at an automobile is very similar to the California crime of assault with a deadly weapon (“ADW”). However, a key difference is that you are only guilty of ADW if you had the present ability to injure the victim—whereas you can be guilty of VC 23110(b) even if you were not in a position where you could have injured someone.11
Example: Let's return to our example of Miguel from above. Let's say that, instead of following the speeding car to a stoplight, Miguel throws a large, sharp rock at the car as it is speeding away.
By the time he hurls the rock, the car is already a long way away from him. There is no way Miguel could have succeeded in hitting the car, and there are no other cars nearby.
However, Miguel could still be guilty of throwing a dangerous object at a vehicle under Vehicle Code 23110(b) VC (but not of assault with a deadly weapon).
Penalties for violating California Vehicle Code 23110(a)
If you violate Vehicle Code 23110(a) by simply throwing a substance or object at a vehicle, you will face California misdemeanor penalties.12
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation;
- Up to six (6) months in county jail; and/or
- A fine of up to one thousand dollars ($1,000).13
Penalties for violating California Vehicle Code 23110(b)
The penalties for throwing a dangerous object at a vehicle under Vehicle Code 23110(b) VC are much steeper.
This form of the offense is a California felony.14 The potential penalties are:
- Felony (formal) probation;
- Sixteen (16) months, two (2) years or three (3) years in California state prison; and/or
- A fine of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000).15
Legal defenses for throwing objects at an automobile
According to Burbank criminal defense attorney Elisa Guadan16:
“One of the most common legal defenses to charges of throwing objects at an automobile is a simple accident defense. Maybe something flew out of your car rather than you throwing it, or maybe you intended to toss an object out your car window but did not intend to hit another car. The combination of a resentful person whose car was hit, an aggressive or racially-biased police officer and an overzealous prosecutor can lead to ridiculous VC 23110 charges against someone who did not even mean to throw anything at a car.”
And if you are charged with felony throwing objects at a vehicle under Vehicle Code 23110(b) VC, you may be able to negotiate a charge reduction to the less serious misdemeanor form of the crime—by arguing that you did not actually intend to inflict great bodily injury when you threw the object.
Call us for help…
For questions about the crime of Vehicle Code 23110 VC throwing objects at a motor vehicle, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our California criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
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 several nearby cities.
1 Vehicle Code 23110 VC – Throwing substance at vehicles. (“(a) Any person who throws any substance at a vehicle or any occupant thereof on a highway is guilty of a misdemeanor. (b) Any person who with intent to do great bodily injury maliciously and willfully throws or projects any rock, brick, bottle, metal or other missile, or projects any other substance capable of doing serious bodily harm at such vehicle or occupant thereof is guilty of a felony and upon conviction shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison.”)
5 Vehicle Code 415 VC – Motor vehicle. (“(a) A “motor vehicle” is a vehicle that is self-propelled.”)
6 Vehicle Code 360 VC – Highway [as used in California's law against throwing substances at motor vehicles]. (““Highway” is a way or place of whatever nature, publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel. Highway includes street.”)
7 Vehicle Code 23110 VC – Throwing substance at vehicles, endnote 1 above.
8 People v. Whitney (1978) 76 Cal.App.3d 863, 867. (“Appellant contends that, by necessary implication, an essential element of the offense is that the vehicle be moving along the highway when the object is thrown. He argues that the purpose of the Legislature in enacting section 23110, subdivision (b) was to prevent personal injuries and loss of life likely to ensue if a driver of a moving vehicle were distracted by any thrown object, and urges that the statute be so limited. We do not feel that the restrictive construction urged by appellant is justified.”)
9 Vehicle Code 23110 VC – Throwing substance at vehicles, endnote 1 above.
10 Penal Code 7 PC – Words and phrases. (“1. The word “willfully,” when applied to the intent with which an act is done or omitted, implies simply a purpose or willingness to commit the act, or make the omission referred to. It does not require any intent to violate law, or to injure another, or to acquire any advantage. . . . 4. The words “malice” and “maliciously” [including as used in California's law against throwing or projecting substances at a motor vehicle] import a wish to vex, annoy, or injure another person, or an intent to do a wrongful act, established either by proof or presumption of law.”)
11 People v. Spence (1970) 3 Cal.App.3d 599, 603. (“It appears from the texts of these statutes that Vehicle Code section 23110 does not necessarily include assault with a deadly weapon, nor does the assault statute necessarily include all possible violations of section 23110. The Vehicle Code violation is limited to attacks aimed at vehicles or their occupants, but it does not require in its commission either the use of a deadly weapon or the present ability to commit a violent injury. The phrase ‘capable of doing serious bodily harm' in the Vehicle Code section refers to a quality of the missile or the substance which is thrown or projected. The statute does not seem to require that the person throwing it have the present ability to inflict the injury, even though he is using a dangerous missile with intent to injure.”)
12 Vehicle Code 23110 VC – Throwing substance at vehicles, endnote 1 above.
13 Vehicle Code 42002 VC – General misdemeanors. (“Unless a different penalty is expressly provided by this code, every person convicted of a misdemeanor for a violation of any of the provisions of this code [including Vehicle Code 23110 VC] shall be punished by a fine of not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) or by imprisonment in the county jail for not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”)
14 Vehicle Code 23110 VC – Throwing substance at vehicles, endnote 1 above.
15 Penal Code 18 PC – Punishment for felony not otherwise prescribed; alternate sentence to county jail. (“(a) Except in cases where a different punishment is prescribed by any law of this state, every offense declared to be a felony is punishable by imprisonment for 16 months, or two or three years in the state prison unless the offense is punishable pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.”)
See also Penal Code 672 PC – Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. (“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 [such as VC 23110(b)], in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.”)
16 Burbank criminal defense attorney Elisa Guadan is an energetic young attorney who has devoted her entire career to high-stakes criminal defense. Her experience includes everything from misdemeanors like throwing objects at a motor vehicle to complex felonies.