Several firearm laws regulate ownership and use and promote safety. Among the various provisions is the prohibition of negligent discharge of a firearm, as it may pose a safety threat. After facing arrest and charges, you will begin the trial process, and retaining a defense attorney is advisable.

At California Criminal Lawyer Group, you will work with a dedicated team keen on providing useful and effective legal advice on your case. We understand the importance of preparing strong defenses to reduce your chances of facing conviction and work hard towards it. Additionally, our team will represent you in court to ensure the court receives all points accurately.

You are also welcome to schedule additional consultations with our team if you require further guidance on your criminal case or for encouragement throughout the trial. Our services are available for clients facing negligent discharge of firearm charges in Long Beach, California, and you can rely on us for quality legal assistance.

The Nature of the Offense

Discharging a firearm without proper care is dangerous, as it poses the risk of injury and even death to anyone around the firearm at discharge. Section 246.3 of the California Penal Code prohibits the negligent discharge of a firearm and classifies it as a wobbler crime. Based on this, people facing charges may either undergo a misdemeanor or felony trial.

The main factors connected to the crime are gross negligence when handling a firearm and the potential exposure to harm others. The prosecutor handling your case will thus need to assess the facts of your case to ensure it meets all primary elements before filing a formal petition in court.

As a defendant, the prosecutor will also assess the type of firearm you used, among other factors, as it may directly impact the nature of your charge. These, among other factors, make up the preliminary stages of the case before the trial begins.

Elements of Crime for the Prosecutor to Prove

Once your case advances to the trial stage, the prosecutor is responsible for establishing your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court. In doing so, they must ensure that all elements of crime in the case are connected to your actions, thereby showing your involvement in breaking the law. Since the prosecutor is primarily obligated to prove your guilt, they work closely with investigation officers, witnesses, and other relevant parties.

In court, the prosecutor must provide sufficient evidence when discussing all elements of the crime or risk dismissing the case. As a result, you need to understand their possible arguments to help in defense preparation. The main elements of the crime of negligent discharge of a firearm are:

You Intentionally Fired a Shot from a Firearm

Criminal offenses comprise the actual criminal act and the mental intent, which the prosecutor should show. In this case, firing a shot would be illegal, forming the first crime element the prosecutor must prove. Moreover, they must show that you undertook this action intentionally, meaning you had a criminal intent to break the law.

Based on this foundation, the prosecutor must source sufficient evidence to show that you are the one who fired a shot from a firearm. The evidence may come from witness statements or testimonies from anyone around you when you committed the act. Alternatively, footage from the crime scene or police reports from any officers present at the location will also be sufficient information to use as evidence.

The prosecutor must also elaborate on the firearm you used to commit the crime, as they come in various utility designs. A firearm is any device that serves as a weapon and is capable of expelling a projectile from an internal explosion fired by combustible components. Guns, rifles, pistols, and revolvers are examples of firearms that may form the subject of your case.

BB devices are any devices that release a projectile using air pressure or spring force. The projectile is made of rubber pellets known as BBs that can cause serious injury and possible death if they hit the victim in a sensitive area. They also fall within the category of firearms in this case because the rubber projectile can cause serious injuries.

Using the relevant information in your case facts, the prosecutor should establish whether you used a firearm or a BB device for the case to advance. In many scenarios, the prosecutor can also produce the firearm in court as an exhibit to further strengthen their case. If so, you should be prepared for the possibility of answering whether the device belongs to you during the trial.

Showing that your actions were intentional is also important for the prosecutor, as it demonstrates your criminal intent. An action is intended if you undertake it without coercion or any accidental events.

Since intent is a mental factor, the prosecutor will likely work around circumstantial evidence demonstrating your willingness to discharge the firearm. For example, raising the firearm and identifying a target before firing indicates your intent and willingness to operate the gun. Similarly, warning or threatening people around you before discharging the firearm also shows your intention to fire the shot.

Evidentiary sources to show your intention may come from witness testimonies, surveillance footage, audio recordings, and reports from the arresting officer about the crime scene. The prosecutor may call on the witnesses to provide evidence during the hearing or rely on their sworn statements.

You Were Grossly Negligent When Shooting the Firearm

The measure of your actions compared to those of a reasonable person is also important, resulting in the second element of the crime. The distinguishing factor between firing a normal shot and negligence when discharging a firearm is the regard or disregard you showed.

During the trial, the prosecutor’s primary focus is to demonstrate that you lacked any regard for human life and safety and acted recklessly. Gross negligence is distinct from regular negligence because it depicts a more severe lack of care, and the prosecutor needs to show this in your case.

Further, the prosecutor should assess your actions compared to a regular person’s to show your extreme carelessness. Gross negligence cases require the prosecutor to establish reckless actions that endanger other people’s lives. It also calls on the prosecutor to distinguish a reasonable person’s actions from yours, making it necessary for you to face legal action.

Examples of gross negligence when discharging a firearm include shooting aimlessly in a public area without any trigger. It may also involve firing in the air or ‘testing the firearm out’ without proper safety checks to ensure people around you are safe.

Evidence to support the prosecutor’s case should show that your actions were unexpected, irrational, and miscalculated. In doing so, they aim to show your gross negligence and the danger it exposes to others. With the help of witness statements, footage, reports, and crime scene assessments, the prosecutor can build their case.

Your Actions Could Have Caused Death

Lastly, the prosecutor must establish that you endangered people’s lives through your grossly negligent actions, hence the need for legal action. Life endangerment stems directly from the possibility of a victim catching stray bullets and sustaining fatal injuries after you discharge the firearm.

The prosecutor does not necessarily have to present a straightforward factual analysis that shows a direct threat to anyone's life. Their only objective is to prove that your actions created the possibility of someone’s death, regardless of how remotely it is connected to your activities.

In many cases, the fact that you discharged a firearm in a public area is enough to demonstrate that you could have caused someone’s death, as people were exposed to bullets. However, the prosecutor must still establish a possibility, not simply mention the facts.

For example, if you fired directly to the ground, the possibility of death is minimal, so the court may disregard this position. On the other hand, firing in the air can create a chance of death if the bullet lands on a victim unexpectedly. The prosecution team must consider all these factors when presenting their case to ensure the death option is clear.

Defenses for the Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

As a defendant, you have the right to a fair trial, including the right to file defenses to justify your position. Your criminal defense attorney is in charge of helping you develop your defenses, and they should be relevant to the case.

These defenses must also include evidence to support the argument, just as the prosecutor must support their position with evidence. Your attorney’s experience and dedication to the case are therefore critical to your chance of success. The various defenses to consider include the following:

You Acted in Self Defense

Any action in self-defense should not attract criminal penalties, as citizens have the liberty to protect themselves from harm or any threats of harm. Despite this, limitations also apply to anyone taking action in self-defense to ensure that their retaliation is genuine. The existence of regulations on the defense also ensures that you do not necessarily endanger the person allegedly creating a safety threat, as it would be unlawful.

Your defense attorney will help you determine whether your counterargument meets the threshold by discussing it and comparing it to your facts. One of the thresholds for anyone using self-defense is that you should have a genuine belief and fear that you're in danger. This calls for a proper assessment of the facts to establish that you could suffer injury or death from the source of harm if you do not act.

When presenting your defense, your attorney should show that you scanned your environment and established the harm, forcing you to take retaliatory action. Your genuine fear should also come out, meaning the harm's source should be credible.

Although the position sounds subjective, you can prepare your evidentiary sources based on the nature of the harm you faced. For example, if a person with a firearm was chasing you, it was a credible threat to your safety that forced you to retaliate.

Another threshold for using the defense is to show that you have no choice but to retaliate with violence. The requirement implies that you should show your inability to escape from the source of harm, forcing you to use violence in self-defense. Your defense should show that you tried to escape but failed or lacked the chance to escape entirely. For example, if the offender entrapped you, your only option for survival would be to fire the weapon.

Lastly, you should show that the force you used to retaliate against the threat to your safety was proportional to the harm you faced. The requirement calls for reasonable action demonstrating rationality, even as you defend yourself.

For example, if the person you believed would cause harm was unarmed, yet you retaliated by shooting them, the court may rule this a disproportionate action. Similarly, if the attacker stopped their actions after they noticed you had a firearm, yet you discharged it, it may also be disproportional.

By factoring in all these elements and ensuring that you meet the threshold, you will easily present your argument in court. Your defense attorney will also help you source evidence to support all your statements for a better chance of success.

Your Actions Did Not Create a Threat of Injury or Death

Although you discharged a firearm, you can also argue that your actions did not create any threat of injury or death to any person. The basis of your defense would be to disprove the prosecutor's broad scope of the possibility of death.

You can do this by stating that you discharged the firearm in a remote area where nobody could have been in the direct line of a bullet. For example, if you were on a nature trail or any other location that people do not frequent, your argument should show the low likelihood of causing death.

Moreover, you can show that your actions did not create a risk of causing death based on the way you discharged the firearm. For example, firing at a select target like a wooden board means nobody would face harm, as the bullet would lodge itself on the target.

Your criminal defense attorney should be keen when presenting this argument to ensure the prosecutor cannot counter it with any possibility of death. This calls for carefully assessing all options before relying on the defense. You should also be aware that while the defense may apply to your case, it does not guarantee a complete acquittal of the charges.

You Genuinely Believed that the Gun was Unloaded

Sometimes, defendants facing the negligent discharge of a firearm charge lack criminal intent, as they genuinely believe that the firearm or device they fired was unloaded. Relying on the defense means you intend to show the accidental nature of your actions and fight off any penalties you would face.

When working on your defense, you should ensure that your genuine lack of knowledge about the firearm comes out clearly. For example, you can state that you were not the gun's owner, meaning you would not have known its loaded status upon picking it up. On the contrary, if the prosecutor establishes that you are the registered firearms owner, the court is less likely to accept your defense, as you should know whether the firearm is always loaded.

You can still counter the prosecutor’s position if you have not had the firearm for some time, making you unaware of its status. For example, if you lent it to someone else and just received it, it may justify your lack of knowledge about the firearm. The defense is also suitable if you rented or borrowed the gun from the owner, who failed to disclose whether it was loaded upon giving it to you.

Regardless of the case facts, your primary goal is to show that your lack of knowledge about the loaded firearm was genuine and that your discharge was accidental. Establishing this point will counter the prosecutor’s argument that you acted with gross negligence, giving you a chance to face an acquittal or sentence reduction.

You Faced Police Misconduct During Arrest and Investigation Processes

General defenses are also important, including exposure to police misconduct or unfair investigation practices. The defense is relevant to reducing the severity of any penalties you may face, especially if it is evident that you negligently discharged a firearm. Some defendants may also enjoy a full acquittal from the defense if the officers handling their cases violate their constitutional rights.

Examples of police misconduct include maliciously altering personal and witness statements, planting evidence, and forcing you to confess that you committed the crime. If you face any actions of this nature, you can report them to your attorney, who will include them in your defense.

Misconduct also includes exaggerating case facts to make it seem like your actions posed more safety threats than they did. For example, if the arresting officers omit important information that would disprove the prosecutor's case or exaggerate some facts, it also amounts to misconduct.

The judge and jury may react differently depending on your case circumstances, and your attorney will guide you through the possible outcomes. For example, you may receive an acquittal for violating your rights or face a significant sentence reduction.

Your Case Involved Mistaken Identity

Defendants may also suffer criminal consequences from mistaken identity, and you need to raise this issue as a defense at the earliest opportunity. You can support the position by providing an alibi, which is an alternative record of events to those related to the crime. You removed yourself from the crime scene because you were elsewhere when a firearm was negligently discharged.

The defense should only be applicable where you genuinely believe someone else is responsible for the crime. Raising it when the prosecutor has overwhelming evidence against you can present you negatively in court, resulting in a detrimental case outcome.

Penalties for the Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

As a wobbler crime, negligently discharging a firearm can attract misdemeanor or felony penalties. Misdemeanor penalties include summary probation terms or a jail sentence of up to one year. The judge may also impose fines of up to $1,000.

Felony penalties include formal probation terms or a sentence of sixteen months, two or three years in county jail, and a fine of up to $10,000. The presiding judge applies discretion in all cases to ensure you receive penalties proportionate to the severity of your case.

Offenses Related to Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

Apart from facing charges for negligent discharge of a firearm, you may face additional and related charges related to handling and using firearms incorrectly. They include:

Brandishing a Weapon

Weapon brandishing is showing your firearm with the intent to scare or intimidate your target, and it is often used to compel them to comply with your orders. It is an offense prohibited under Section 417 of the Penal Code, as it poses a threat to the general public.

Upon conviction, the crime attracts misdemeanor penalties, and the judge may sentence you to three to six months in county jail, or to a fine payment of up to $1000.

Shooting Inhabited Cars, Buildings or Dwellings

For the purposes of Penal Code 246, inhabited cars, dwellings, or buildings are any enclosures that house people as temporary or permanent shelters, including tents and any other makeshift dwellings. The primary element is that the building, car, or dwelling must be inhabited at the time of shooting.

The offense is contrary to Section 246 of the Penal Code, and attracts serious felony charges for anyone found guilty. If the presiding judge finds you guilty of the crime, you may face a jail sentence of three, five, or seven years in state prison. The judge will adjust it depending on the severity of your case, and any aggravating/mitigating factors.

Find a Pasadena Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

The negligent discharge of a firearm is a serious offense that may attract felony or misdemeanor charges if the judge finds you guilty. You can successfully challenge the prosecutor’s case by raising strong defenses with the help of a skilled attorney.

At California Criminal Lawyer Group, we have helped hundreds of clients facing negligent discharge of a firearm in Long Beach, California, over the years. Our team takes a hands-on approach to your case, ensuring we assess and create solutions for all factors. You can also count on us for effective court representation thanks to our experience handling criminal litigation.

Your assigned attorney also understands the many requirements, including court deadlines. Therefore, we take our work seriously as we strive to provide you with reliable legal services. For more information about how to fight a negligent discharge of a firearm charge, contact us today at 562-966-8120.