In California, all individuals over the age of 18 can legally purchase and use a firearm. However, gun owners must follow the guidelines on how to carry and where to use firearms. If you discharge a firearm negligently, you can be arrested and charged with a crime under California Penal Code 246.3.

Discharging a firearm carelessly can cause serious injuries to other people. Therefore, California law is strict on individuals who commit this crime. A conviction under PC 246.3 will result in serious legal and collateral consequences. After serving your jail or prison sentence, the conviction will appear on your record, which can impact multiple aspects of your life.

If you face charges for negligent firearm discharge, you must be aggressive to fight the charges and avoid a conviction. Seeking legal guidance is a critical step in beating your charges. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we offer legal guidance and representation for defendants facing criminal charges in Chula Vista, CA.

An Overview of California Penal Code 246.3

You can legally purchase and use a firearm in California. However, strict laws exist on where to use firearms and how to carry them in public areas. Negligent firearm discharge will result in an arrest and criminal charges.

California Penal Code 246.3 addresses negligent discharge of a firm, and the charges can be brought against you even when your actions were not meant to harm others. Some acts such as leaving a child with a loaded firearm, qualify as negligent firearm discharge.

Negligent firearm discharge is an offense whose prosecution and conviction depend on the circumstances that led you to pull the trigger. Before you are convicted for this offense, the prosecutor must prove these elements:

You Willfully Shot a BB Device or Firearm

The first critical element that the prosecution must prove to establish your guilt under PC 246.3 is that you shot the firearm intentionally. You cannot be found guilty of a negligent firearm discharge if you accidentally pulled the trigger and endangered another person's life.

Additionally, you will not be liable under this statute if you believe the gun was unloaded. For PC 246.3, a firearm is designed to be a weapon that discharges a projectile through an explosion. On the other hand, a BB device could be an instrument that uses spring or gas pressure to expel a pellet.

You Shot the Firearm with Gross Negligence

Being careless when handling a firearm is not enough to find you guilty of a negligent firearm discharge. The prosecutor must prove that you acted with gross negligence. Under California law, gross negligence involves the following:

  • You act in a way that creates a risk of great bodily injury or death.
  • A reasonable person would not act as you did under similar circumstances.

Gross negligence must be something more than ordinary carelessness. The standard level of injury for negligent firearm discharge is great bodily injury. An injury meets the GBI standards when the harm is substantial. However, injuries do not have to be permanent for courts to deem them GBI.

The jury determines whether you pose a risk of great bodily injury to another person. Common forms of injuries that suffice as GBI include:

  • Broken bones
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Concussions
  • Severe burns

The Shooting Could Have Resulted in Injury or Death

The final element that the prosecutor must prove when showing your liability under PC 243.6 is that firing the gun posed a risk of injury or death to another person. A potential, in this case, means that death or serious injury was a likely consequence of your actions. Even when your actions injure no one, you can still be found guilty of a negligent firearm discharge.

Sentencing and Punishment for Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

In California, negligent firearm discharge is a wobbler. A wobbler is a crime that can attract felony or misdemeanor charges. The prosecution considers the following factors to determine the nature of your charges:

  • Case circumstances. There are many reasons why someone could discharge a firearm illegally. The nature of your actions before and after you pulled the trigger may affect how the prosecution files your charges. If you pose a significant risk of injury, the prosecution could file felony charges.
  • Your criminal history. California law is strict on repeat offenders. If you have a felony firearm conviction on your record, you will face felony charges.

When charged as a misdemeanor, negligent firearm discharge can result in the following punishments:

  • A one-year jail sentence
  • Fines of up to $1,000
  • Misdemeanor probation

As a felony, negligent discharge of a firearm will result in:

  • A prison sentence of sixteen months, two or three years
  • Felony probation
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

Probation for Negligent Firearm Discharge

In California, the court can sentence you to incarceration, fines, or probation. Mostly, probation is an alternative to spending time behind bars. If the court sends you to probation, you will spend part of your jail or prison sentence outside incarceration. You can be sentenced to probation for a felony or misdemeanor.

However, not all defendants qualify for probation. The court offers probation to individuals with a less extensive criminal record. Although probation reduces the time you spend behind bars, you must follow these probation terms:

  • Report to your probation officer regularly. The court appoints a probation officer to monitor your progress while on felony probation. You must meet with the probation officer regularly throughout the three or five years of probation.
  • Surrender your firearms. When you are convicted of a negligent firearm discharge, the court considers you a threat to safety. Therefore, you must surrender all your firearms to the court while on probation.
  • Avoid criminal acts. Serving probation allows you to undergo rehabilitation while you continue with your life outside of jail. Therefore, while on probation, you should not commit other offenses.
  • Undergo counseling. Several factors could cause a person to discharge a firearm negligently. Therefore, the court will order that you undergo counseling.
  • Random drug testing. If evidence shows that you were intoxicated when you violated PC 243.6, the judge will order that you undergo random alcohol and drug tests.

Violating a probation term can result in criminal charges. The outcome of a probation violation includes the revocation of the probation and return to jail or prison.

Sentencing Enhancements Under PC 246.3

Sentence enhancement is a circumstance that causes the court to increase your sentence for a particular crime. Common sentence enhancements for negligent firearm discharge include:

Gang Enhancement

California Penal Code 186.232 makes it a crime to engage in or support gang activities. You will receive this substance enhancement if you discharge the firearm as part of gang activities or to benefit the gang. For a serious felony like negligent firearm discharge, gang enhancement will increase your prison sentence by five years.

You will only receive this sentencing enhancement if you are found guilty of the underlying offense. Therefore, fighting to avoid a conviction under PC 243.6 will help you avoid the enhancement.

10-20-Life Rule

Under California PC 12022.53, you will suffer a penalty enhancement if you use a firearm to commit a crime. Negligent discharge of a firearm involves the wrongful use of a gun. Therefore, the court can apply this sentencing enhancement to your case. In addition to the penalties you face for your crime, the court may impose an additional twenty years in prison.

California Three Strikes Law

When charged as a felony, negligent firearm discharge is a strike under California's three strikes law. The three strikes law is a sentencing scheme that allows defendants facing charges for multiple serious felonies to receive a sentence of twenty-five years to life. For each serious felony you commit, you receive one point on your record.

For individuals with one felony conviction, the punishment for negligent firearm discharge is twenty-five years in prison. However, you will be imprisoned for life if you have two or more strikes.

You can fight to have your charge reduced to a misdemeanor. This helps you avoid penalty enhancements under the Three Strikes Law.

Immigration Consequences for Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

Negligent firearm discharge falls under aggravated felonies in California. Therefore, if you are an immigrant in the United States, a conviction under PC 243.6 could result in deportation or inadmissibility. Being deported means that you will be forcefully removed from the United States. Often, deportation provceedings begin immediately after your conviction. This causes you to lose your livelihood in the US and be away from your family.

Loss of Gun Rights

You do not need a license to purchase or use a firearm in California. However, state laws are strict on how you can use guns. You can use your gun rights if found guilty of a negligent firearm discharge. Recovering your gun rights after a PC 246.3 conviction is long and complicated.

Defenses Against Penal Code 246.3 Charges

A conviction for negligent discharge of firearm results in serious legal consequences. Therefore, you must be aggressive to fight the charges. The first step towards building a defense in your case is hiring and retaining a competent lawyer. Your attorney can help you build a defense around the following arguments:

You Acted in Self-defense

If you discharged the gun to defend yourself or another person, you cannot be found guilty of a negligent firearm discharge. However, you can only use this defense if the following is true in your case:

  • You believed that you or another person was in danger of being killed or suffering serious injury.
  • You believed using the gun was necessary to defend yourself against foreseeable danger.
  • You use force that is only necessary for protection and not to harm another person.

Your Actions were not Willful

A prosecutor must prove that you intentionally discharged a firearm before obtaining a conviction against you. Therefore, you must have known that the gun was loaded. Depending on the factors of your case, it may be challenging for the prosecution to prove your knowledge that the firearm was loaded. This gives you a chance to fight and prevail in your case.

There was No Danger of Injury or Death

You will be found guilty of negligent firearm discharge if your actions threaten injury or death to another person. Whether or not your acts were dangerous will depend on where the incident occurred and whether people were around. A skilled criminal lawyer can help you prove that your actions did not pose a danger to another person.

False Accusations

In domestic violence disputes, false allegations of negligent firearm discharge are common. The evidence of injury is unnecessary to prove your guilt for the crime. Therefore, you could be easily accused of the offense. A person may be tempted to falsely accuse you of this crime out of anger, jealousy, or revenge. In domestic circumstances, being accused of such a serious crime can give the person the upper hand in a custody case.

Another instance where you could be falsely accused is if a witness mistakenly identifies you as the person who discharged the firearm. Firearms are discharged either during celebrations or tense situations. Therefore, it may be challenging to identify the right culprit. A skilled criminal attorney can help you prove that you were falsely accused.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

When you are arrested and charged with discharging a firearm negligently, you may feel overwhelmed and confused. The following are frequently asked questions about the crime:

  • Can I be charged with this offense for discharging a BB gun?

Yes. BB guns do not count as firearms for most firearm offenses in California. However, you can be charged with negligent firearm discharge if you fire a BB gun recklessly. If your crime involves a pellet or BB gun, your offense will not be a wobbler. Instead, you will face misdemeanor charges. A misdemeanor conviction results in a one-year jail sentence.

  • Can I be charged with negligent firearm discharge if no one was injured?

Yes. The laws on the negligent discharge of a firearm seek to punish individuals who put others at risk with their reckless behavior. Therefore, the prosecution does not need to prove that an injury occurred. If someone suffers an injury or dies from the act, you will face additional criminal charges.

  • Does discharging a pistol during a race count as a negligent firearm discharge?

Most people who discharge pistols during a race are after the sound produced by an empty firearm. However, there are times when a firearm may be loaded, and discharge a bullet instead. One of the elements of PC 243.6 is that your actions must have been willful. Therefore, you cannot be found guilty of the crime if you do not know that the pistol was loaded.

  • Will the felony murder rule apply in my case if another person dies from my negligent firearm discharge?

In California, you will be charged with murder if you act with malice afterthought. However, the felony murder rule is exempt from this principle. The main difference between the old and new laws on felony murder is intent.

With the old law, you could be convicted because someone else died during the commission of a felony. Your intentions during the act were not important. However, you will only be convicted under the new felony murder rule if you intend to kill the victim.

Offenses Related to Penal Code 246.3

Negligently discharging a firearm is one of California law's most common firearm offenses. If you are arrested and charged with this offense, the court can introduce these related charges to your case:

Brandishing a Weapon

Under California law, it is a crime to exhibit a deadly weapon in a threatening way. If you draw the weapon in the presence of other people, you can be arrested. If you draw a gun or other weapon in the middle of an argument, you can be arrested and charged under California PC 417. The prosecutor in your case must prove the following elements to obtain a conviction:

  • You drew or exhibited a firearm in the presence of another person. A deadly weapon under this statute is any item that can be used to harm another person. weapons, in this case, include guns, knives, and batons.
  • You drew the weapon in a rude or threatening way.
  • You used the firearm in a fight or argument.
  • You did not draw the weapon to defend yourself.

Brandishing a weapon is charged as a misdemeanor. If you are convicted of brandishing a weapon, the court will sentence you to one year in jail. Additionally, the court can impose a fine and probation. If you brandish the firearm near a school, you can face felony charges, which result in harsher penalties.

Possession of a Firearm by a "Felon"

The right to purchase and use firearms in California does not apply to convicted “felons” and drug addicts. A convicted felon is an individual who has a felony conviction on their criminal record. If you fall under this category, possessing a firearm can result in arrest and criminal charges under PC 29800(a).

If you are arrested for negligent firearm discharge as a felon, you can be charged with PC 29800(a) alongside PC 243.6. Violation of PC 29800 is a felony. A conviction for this offense will result in a three-year jail sentence. If you are a felon facing charges for firearm possession, you will require expert legal guidance to beat the charge.

Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling

California Penal Code 246 makes it a crime to shoot at an inhabited building or occupied vehicle. The elements the prosecutor must prove to show guilt under this statute include:

  • You maliciously and willfully shot a firearm.
  • You shot the gun toward an inhabited home or vehicle.

Your actions are considered willful and malicious if you deliberately intend to harm others. For PC 246, an inhabited dwelling could be a vehicle, boat, or anywhere else used as a residence by another person. Shooting at an inhabited home is charged as a felony.

After a conviction, you can face the following punishment:

  • A seven-year prison sentennce
  • Felony probation. For most defendants in California, probation is an alternative to incarceration. Therefore, felony probation allows you to spend less time behind bars. Instead, the court will impose strict rules you must follow while performing community service.
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

In addition to the penalties you face for violating PC 246, the court could impose a "10-20-life" rule. This enhancement increases your penalties for using a firearm to commit a crime. If you cause another person's death when committing this crime, you could be charged with a more serious offense like murder.

Find a Competent Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Due to the increased gun violence in the United States, California has made the rules on purchasing and using firearms stricter. You will be arrested and charged with negligent firearm discharge if you carelessly shoot a firearm or BB gun in a public area. Negligent firearm discharge is a severe offense charged under California PC 246.3.

Felony or misdemeanor penalties for violating PC 246.3 are severe. Additionally, the consequences of a conviction for negligent firearm discharge do not end when you serve your prison sentence. The conviction will leave behind a tainted criminal record, which can destroy your personal and professional life.

Fortunately, an arrest for carelessly discharging a firearm does not have to end in a conviction. You can build a solid defense to fight the charges with a knowledgeable lawyer's guidance. At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we understand how a gun-crime conviction can impact your life. We work hard to protect our clients' rights and secure a favorable outcome in your case. Call us today at 619-877-6894 if you face criminal charges in Chula Vista, CA, to discuss your legal options.