Negligent discharge of a firearm is a gun offense under California gun laws that can attract severe criminal punishments. A criminal record of this offense will have negative impacts on you in the future and possibly jeopardize your gun ownership rights. Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm will help you fight these charges to avoid hefty penalties.

What You Need to Know About Negligent Discharge of a Firearm in California

Negligent discharge of a firearm is a criminal offense under Penal Code 246.3. It becomes a crime when a person discharges a firearm in a grossly negligent and careless manner, which can result in severe physical injury or death of another person. A person must be proven to have pulled the gun trigger intentionally to be guilty of this criminal offense. Accidental discharge of a firearm is not subject to the Penal Code 246.3 punishment requirements.

Owning a gun in California is okay under certain circumstances, although owners are required by law to use the firearms responsibly and safely every time. California gun laws allow adults who are above the age of 21 to buy and own a firearm without a license except for individuals prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, for instance, individuals with a criminal history. California Penal Code 246.3 PC addresses issues of people shooting recklessly in the air as a means of celebration. What people forget when shooting bullets in the air is that these bullets always come back down to the ground and can cause significant injuries when they fall on someone.

When charged with negligent discharge of a firearm, it is in your best interest if you hire a criminal attorney for legal representation. When choosing an attorney for the legal representation of your case, you need to pay attention to the specialist’s experience and reputation before making any significant commitment to the individual you decide to hire. The success of your case in the court when charged with such a criminal offense is sorely dependent on your attorney's knowledge of the law and his/her skills; hence experience is important.

Unlike in other states where there is no strict limitation for filing criminal charges, In California, the prosecutor has a maximum of three years to file a lawsuit for a felony offense against an offender and up to two years for filing a misdemeanor offense.

Negligent Discharge of a Firearm Prosecution Elements

Criminal negligence happens when a person commits unreasonable actions way beyond what a typical reasonable person would act in similar circumstances. It’s okay to panic when charged with negligent discharge of a firearm because penalties can be very harsh. You are guilty of the offense if there is sufficient concrete evidence of gross negligence in the firearm discharge. Your prosecutor must prove the following elements of criminal negligence beyond no reasonable doubt in the court of law for you to be convicted:

  1. The Defendant Discharged a Firearm Intentionally/Willfully

Intentional discharge of a firearm means an individual pulled the trigger while knowing the firearm was loaded. You only undergo a conviction for this gun offense if the prosecutor demonstrates and proves to the jury beyond no reasonable doubt that you willfully discharged the firearm even though you knew it was loaded.

Accidental firing of a gun is not an offense, as per Penal Code 246.3 of the California law. For instance, if a friend gives you a handgun and tells you that it is a toy gun and you shoot believing this to be true, you cannot be charged for negligent discharge of a firearm because you did not intend to shoot. With the help of your criminal defense attorney, you might be able to dismiss charges or allegations for this gun offense by proving that you had no intent to shoot the gun.

  1. The Defendant Shot the Firearm in a Grossly Negligent Way

Being grossly negligent in criminal cases means doing specific actions that are unreasonable and different from what an ordinarily careful person would do under similar circumstances, or the actions portray disregard for human life. Using firearms in a manner that poses a risk to bodily injury or death of an individual is a grossly negligent action because any ordinary reasonable person would not have acted the same way in that similar situation.

The prosecutor must demonstrate and prove to the jury that the defendant acted carelessly or was grossly negligent when he/she pulled the trigger for conviction of this gun offense crime. For example, if a person gets furious about his/her neighbors, making chaos in the room next-door and goes ahead to shoot a loaded gun to keep the crowd quiet is a careless, reckless and negligent action. Any reasonable ordinary person would not have done the same knowing discharge of the firearm poses a risk of bodily injury to people in the crowd or the worst death.

  1. The Defendant’s Discharge of the Firearm Could Have Caused Bodily Injury or Death

The defendant is guilty for the negligent discharge of a firearm only if the shooting that he/she did could have resulted in death or bodily injury to people. In proving this element of criminal negligence, the prosecutor ought to prove to the jury that there were possible deaths or physical injuries of individuals that were foreseeable when the defendant discharged the firearm.

For instance, when Eric is in a crowded place, and he shoots his firearm in a direction away from the crowd, and nobody is injured, it’s foreseeable and possible that the shooting can result in the death or physical injury of at least one individual in the crowd. In this scenario, Eric is guilty of negligently discharging his firearm in such a place. If you discharge your firearm in an isolated place like the forest, you should not be charged guilty for violation of Penal Code 246.3

  1. The Defendant Was Not Defending His/her Self when He or She Discharged the Firearm

Self-defense is also a commonly known legal defense often used in some criminal offenses like in negligent discharge of firearm allegations. This concept of criminal defense is valid in court if the defendant had to use reasonable force to protect his/her self, property, or other persons. If an individual reasonably believes that there is imminent danger of being killed or injured, he/she can discharge a firearm to warn or deflect the harm. The defendant is not guilty for the negligent discharge of a firearm if he/she discharged the firearm under such life-threatening circumstances.

Penalties for Violation of Penal Code 246.3 of The California Law

Negligent discharge of a firearm is a wobbler offense, which means that the prosecutor can charge it as either a felony or misdemeanor crime depending on the circumstances of an arrest and criminal history of the offender. The possible penalties for negligent discharge of a firearm in California are:

  1. Misdemeanor

Misdemeanors are less severe criminal offenses, which a professional and experienced criminal defense attorney can easily dismiss or negotiate for lesser charges. In California, if you’re found guilty of a misdemeanor offense due to negligent discharge of a firearm, you will be subject to the following penalties:

  • Pay an exceptional fine of up to one thousand dollars
  • One year jail term
  • Misdemeanor summary probation as an alternative to jail sentence where the offender is bound to specific terms and conditions of the probation up to five years
  • The defendant will lose right to buying guns and ownership for ten years
  1. Felony

A felony offense is a more severe criminal offense. When you’re arrested and found with another criminal history, your prosecutor will file the case as a felony offense. Penalties imposed for negligent discharge of a firearm as a felony offense are:

  • Ten thousand dollars fine
  • Up to 16 months prison sentence in the county jail, two years to three years under the California Realignment Program. The realignment program transfers legal responsibility for supervision of certain felony offenders from the state parole agents and prisons to county jails
  • Felony formal probation as an alternative to jail sentence where the offender serves his/her sentence out of custody under the supervision of the assigned probation officer
  • The defendant will lose his/her right to gun ownership for life

Additional Penalties for Violation of Penal Code 246.3

Depending on the circumstances of the arrest, the defendant may suffer other sentencing enhancement. Luckily many other sentencing enhancements that generally apply in other criminal offenses do not apply in the negligent discharge of a firearm offense under Penal Code 246.3 of the California law. Below are possible sentencing enhancement the defendant might suffer:

  1. Gang Sentencing Enhancement

Gang sentencing enhancement happens if the defendant participates in a criminal street gang or if he/she aids the gang members in a felony criminal conduct. Criminal street gang-up is a crime itself. However, offenders might suffer more sentencing enhancement if they have committed other crimes in furtherance to the criminal conduct by the street gang. A criminal conviction under such circumstances where the defendant negligently discharges a firearm to aid a criminal activity will attract an additional sentence of at least two to five years in the state prison.

  1. Immigration Consequences

Just like most gun offenses in California, negligent discharge of a firearm will lead to deportation if you’re found guilty of the offense. Negligent discharge of a firearm might lead to severe immigration consequences for offenders who are not legally citizens of the United States. The Department Of Homeland Security (DHS) will deport defendants who are not U.S citizens if convicted with one of these so-called “deportable crimes.” Negligent discharge of a firearm is a criminal offense, which can lead to deportation if you’re not a U.S citizen; therefore, it would be in your best interest if you hire a criminal defense attorney for legal representation if charged with the offense.

  1. California Three Strikes Law Sentencing Enhancement

Under California, Three Strikes Law outlined in the Penal Code 667, defendants who are convicted twice or thrice of severe felonies can suffer a double sentence or 25 years imprisonment for the third strike conviction of a violent felony crime like the negligent discharge of a firearm. With the services of a reliable attorney, you can fight to have the sentence reduced or charged as a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Possible Defenses for Violation of Penal Code 246.3 Charges

Negligent discharge of a firearm conviction will affect your reputation negatively and even jeopardize your gun ownership rights. You will need services of an experienced criminal defense attorney who has handled clients with similar cases before with success to avoid possible legal consequences. Below are helpful defenses a reliable criminal defense lawyer will use for negligent discharge of a firearm allegations/charges:

  1. You Acted in Self Defense of an Imminent Danger

You should not be guilty of negligent discharge of a firearm if you fired a warning shot for self-protection, property protection, or another person protection as per Penal Code 246.3. Your prosecutor must prove to the jury that you grossly discharged your firearm willfully to cause harm. Your attorney must prove the following circumstances to the tribunal for this means of defense to be applicable:

  • The defendant was reasonably convinced that he had to fire a gun to defend his/her self from imminent danger
  • You were reasonably convinced that another person was in imminent danger of being killed or sustaining body injuries
  • You did not apply any more force that is unreasonably unnecessary when defending yourself or another person against imminent danger
  1. You Did Not Fire the Gun Intentionally

If you reasonably believed that the firearm was not loaded when you fired a shot, you should not be held guilty for the negligent discharge of a firearm. Defendants are guilty for violation of Penal Code 246.3 if they willfully and intentionally discharge a firearm in an unreasonably and grossly negligent manner.

  • There Was no Risk of Bodily Injury or Death of a Person

You are guilty of the negligent discharge of a firearm if you posed a risk of bodily injury or death to people. If the incident of the alleged charges took place somewhere isolated where there is no possible foreseeable harm could happen to someone else, the defendant is not guilty of violating Penal Code 246.3. Your prosecutor must prove that you willfully discharged your firearm with intent to cause harm for you to be charged guilty of this criminal offense.

Offenses Related to Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

  1. Shooting at Occupied Cars and Inhabited Dwellings

You are guilty for violation of Penal Code 246 PC when you willfully and maliciously discharge your firearm at an inhabited dwelling or occupied car even if no one was inside. Discharge of a firearm at inhabited dwelling is a severe criminal offense than the negligent discharge of a firearm offense. Penalties for this crime can attract a sentence of either six months, up to a year in the county jail, and three to seven years imprisonment. Because penalties for this crime are severe, criminal defense attorneys always attempt to get this Penal Code 246 violation charges reduced to Penal Code 243.6 violation whose charges are less severe.

  1. Felony Convict in Possession of a Gun

California gun laws prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms. If you buy or own a firearm as a convicted felon, you violate Penal Code 29800 PC, which is a crime. Felony convicts are some of the people prohibited from gun possession due to their criminal history. Violation of this penal code makes you subject to sixteen months, two to three years in the state prison, depending on the circumstances of the alleged charge.

  1. Felony Murder

Under California, “felony murder rule,” if the defendant accidentally kills another person while committing other inherent dangerous felonies such as negligent discharge of a firearm, he/she should be convicted. You’re guilty of this criminal offense if you do the following:

  • Directly kill someone while in the commission of a felony or an attempted felony
  • Aiding in killing or you were a significant participant in a killing
  • The crime victim was a peace officer who was in his line of duty
  1. Brandishing a Weapon

When you draw and display your firearm rudely and angrily to threaten a person, it’s considered a violation of Penal Code 417. Brandishing a weapon is charged as a misdemeanor offense and could attract a jail sentence of three to six months in the county jail. Brandishing of a weapon is a criminal offense often charged alongside the negligent discharge of a firearm offense depending on the incident circumstances. For instance, in a situation where the defendant is in an argument with another person, and he/she draws out a gun and fires a warning shot.

Questions That are Asked Frequently on Negligent Discharge of a Firearm Cases

All criminal charges can result in unseen penalties and hefty fines you could never expect; hence it’s always wise to ask legal representatives relevant questions when charged with such an offense to know your next move. The following are the most common and frequent questions asked by victims with negligent discharge of firearm charges:

  • If I Discharge My Firearm as a Warning Shot to Stop Gang Criminals from Doing a Crime, Will I Be Charged for Violation of Penal Code 246.3

No, you cannot be charged with negligent discharge of a firearm if you discharge your firearm to prevent possible harm to other people or property. You will be held guilty in such a situation only if you willfully fired the gun to aid the gang members in committing the crime or if a member of the gang requested you to do so. Gang offenses are very complex and could attract harsh penalties and possible sentencing enhancement; therefore, if you or your relative is a victim of this offense, you should consider hiring a criminal defense attorney for legal representation.

  • Could I be Guilty of Violation of Penal Code 246.3 For Firing Warning Shots to Stop Street Dogs from Biting My Family Member or Me?

According to Penal Code 246.3, it’s okay to discharge your firearm in self-protection after reasonably believing that there is an imminent danger that could harm you, your property, or another person. If you reasonably discharged your firearm under such circumstances, you will not face any conviction if your criminal defense attorney can prove elements of self-defense in that situation.

  • Can I be Convicted for Negligent Firearm Discharge in the Air While at a Party?

Yes, you can face charges of negligent discharge of a firearm if you willfully fired the gun recklessly and carelessly in a manner that puts people at the party at risk of bodily injury or death. However, if you discharged your gun in the form of self-defense, with your criminal defense attorney, you might be able to dismiss the charges or negotiate lesser charges. The prosecutor will have to prove to the jury that you shot your firearm in a grossly negligent manner that would have resulted in bodily injury or death of a person at the party to be guilty of this offense.

  • Will I be Guilty for Violation of Penal Code 246.3 if I Fired a Loaded “Starter Pistol” in a Racing Event Thinking it Will Just Make Noise?

One of the essential elements for proving negligence in a firearm discharge case is a demonstration of the willful intent of the defendant to cause harm. If you reasonably believed that the “starter pistol” you fired was unloaded and will just make noise, you should not be held guilty for negligent discharge of a firearm as per California Penal Code 246.3. However, you should consider seeking the services of a reliable criminal defense attorney to review the aspect and facts of your case for appropriate legal representation.

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

If you're facing charges for negligent discharge of a firearm, you should contact a reliable criminal defense attorney to protect yourself from possible penalties of such criminal offenses. We invite you to reach out to the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm for professional legal representation. Get in touch with us at 714-740-7848.