California law allows anyone above eighteen years to own or possess a firearm so long as they follow the guidelines and laws stated under California gun laws. Failing to follow these guidelines can land you behind bars and negatively affect your future. Therefore, it is important to be responsible for your firearm and handle it with caution and care.

Negligent discharge of a firearm is among the crimes you can face under PC 246.3. A conviction under this statute has lifelong consequences, so you should contact a skilled defense lawyer if you are facing similar charges. Our experienced attorneys at Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are ready to offer you exceptional legal services in Riverside, CA, for the best possible results.

The Legal Definition of Negligent Discharge of a Firearm under Penal Code 246.3

The law defines negligent discharge of a firearm as discharging your firearm willfully and intentionally, in a grossly negligent way that is likely to injure or cause another person’s death.

An accidental shooting cannot lead to a conviction under PC 246.3. You must willfully shoot a gun to be subjected to this offense.

Below are some examples of discharging a firearm negligently:

  • During a campaign rally, Peter shoots at the crowd to scare people off
  • At his homecoming party, James takes his parents’ gun and shoots it in the air to show his excitement
  • After acquiring a gun, Jack fires the gun at a party as a show-off

The Elements of the Crime

There are various elements that the prosecutor needs to prove for you to be convicted for negligent discharge of a firearm. These elements include:

  • You shot a firearm intentionally
  • You did so with gross negligence
  • Another person could have been injured or killed by the shooting

You Shot the Firearm Intentionally

This means that you were aware that the firearm was loaded, and you intentionally shot the firearm. An accidental shooting does not count as a negligent discharge of a firearm. For instance, Cate and Mary saw a gun in their mum’s room while cleaning. Mary convinced Cate that it was just a toy and Mary pulled the trigger facing the door. In this case, Mary cannot be convicted under penal code 246.3 because she was unaware that the handgun was loaded.

Note that a firearm is any weapon that can expel a projectile. For example, a BB gun, a handgun, or any other type.

You Acted With Gross Negligence

Acting with gross negligence means that you:

  • Acted in a manner that posed a high risk of significant bodily injury or death to other people/person, and
  • A caring and reasonable person should have known that their actions would put other people at risk of being injured or dead.

Under PC 246.3, acting in gross negligence is defined as when a person acts differently from how a reasonable person would if put in a similar situation or when a person acts in disregard for human life. For example, Peter’s neighbor holds a party at his home, they put on loud music, and everyone starts chanting; since Peter cannot sleep with the noise, he shoots at the crowd through his window to try to silence them. Peter acted with gross negligence since a careful person would not act the same way if put in a similar situation.

Another Person could have been Injured or Killed by the Shooting

You can only be convicted for negligent discharge of a firearm if another person would have sustained injury or death from the shooting. The prosecutor’s role is not to prove that the shooting was likely to cause death; he/she only needs to prove that death or injury was a possible outcome of the shooting.

For instance, James gets drunk at a friend's party and shoots in the air directly opposite the crowd, where no one is likely to be injured. However, there is a possibility that at least one person could be injured or shot dead in the shooting. So, in this case, James can be charged with negligent discharge of a firearm.

Another scenario would be James going into the jungle to hunt. He shoots into the air, and Peter, who is 100 miles away, informs the police of the shooting. In this case, James cannot be charged with negligently discharging a firearm because no one was in his vicinity; hence the shooting could not have injured anyone.

Penalties for Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

Penal code 246.3 is considered a wobbler in California, meaning the prosecutor can charge the offense as a felony or misdemeanor. To determine the type of charge to use in your case, the prosecutor will look at your criminal record and the circumstances that led you to discharge your firearm. You may face fines and jail time or probation, and at times the court may subject you to the three penalties.

Penalties for Misdemeanor Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

If charged with a misdemeanor under PC 246.3, you will likely be subjected to the following penalties:

  • Confinement in county jail for a maximum of one year
  • Maximum fines of up to $1,000
  • Misdemeanor / informal probation

Penalties for felony Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

If charged with a felony under PC 246.3, you will likely face the following penalties:

  • Confinement in jail for 16 months to 3 years
  • Maximum fines of $10,000
  • Felony/formal probation

Additional Penalties

You may be subjected to additional penalties like revoking your firearm license or being banned from owning or possessing a firearm. If you were charged with a misdemeanor, you would likely lose your firearm rights for a decade, but if you were charged with a felony, you would lose your firearm rights for life. If you are found owning a gun after being prohibited from owning or possessing one, you will be charged with a “felony with a firearm.”

Does Negligent Discharge of a Firearm Follow The Three Strike Law?

Yes. California PC 667 offers a provision for penalty enhancement for felony charges that risk inflicting another person with severe injuries. This law state that if you have one or several convictions of a serious felony on your record (including felony negligent discharge of a firearm), you will be subjected to these penalty enhancements:

  • If you have a previous conviction for a severe felony, you will receive twice the punishment of the offense you are being charged for
  • If you have two or more subsequent convictions for a serious felony, you will likely face three times the penalty of the office you are facing charges for or confinement in state prison for up to 25 years.

In this case, a negligent discharge of a firearm conviction will earn you a strike under the Three Strikes Law, and a second conviction of the same offense will subject you to the second imprisonment.

Penalty Enhancements For Penal Code 246.3

A conviction for negligent discharge of a firearm can have you face various related charges like “assault with a firearm” and other serious crimes, which is why you should seek legal advice from a skilled defense lawyer if you have injured another person while negligently discharging your firearm. Below are some of the additional charges that you may be subjected to:

Gang Enhancement

If the felony offense was committed by a gang or a group of criminals, you could be subjected to a sentence enhancement. For example, if a defendant shoots in the crowd to help a friend escape after committing an offense, they could face up to five additional years in prison.

Negligent Discharge of a Firearm Causing Death or Severe Injury of Someone Else

If you cause another person’s death by negligently discharging a firearm, you could be charged with second-degree murder. California Felony Murder Laws permit the court to charge a person who kills another person while discharging a firearm even though it was done by accident. If done by accident, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, which may subject you to imprisonment in state prison for up to 15 years.

For example, Jay shoots to air at his prom as a sign of excitement. Unfortunately, the bullet hits Marya, and she dies on the spot. Jay is guilty of a felony involuntary manslaughter and could be charged with second-degree murder.

Immigration Consequences

If a non-citizen is convicted for negligently discharging a firearm in California, they risk being deported or marked inadmissible. Regardless of whether they plead guilty, having a defense attorney who can help you negotiate lesser penalties is crucial.

What Should I Do if I Accidentally Discharged a Firearm?

Here are a few steps you should take to avoid getting into more trouble with law enforcement officers:

  • Analyze the situation ⏤ Take time to assess the situation. Check if there is anyone who has sustained injuries and if need be, call 911 for emergency services. It is important to ensure that injured people get emergency services to avoid death. Also, unload the gun to avoid another accidental discharge. Put the gun away where no one is likely to get hurt, then move on to the next steps.
  • Contact a criminal defense lawyer ⏤ If you caused another person's death or made them sustain injuries, it is important to call a defense attorney since you could potentially be facing serious charges. A defense attorney will also help assess the situation and develop strong defenses to fight your charges.
  • Take responsibility ⏤ Taking responsibility is crucial if you cause any damage or injuries. One way you can take responsibility is by offering to take care of the medical and emergency bills or repaying the losses incurred. Minor cases can be solved without the police officers or outside court if you accept to take responsibility.
  • Refrain from committing a similar offense ⏤ Even though some accidents are inevitable; it is important to ensure that you do not commit a similar offense to avoid complicating your situation.

What are the Legal Defenses?

You could use several defenses to fight charges of the negligent discharge of a firearm. These defenses include:

  • You acted in self-defense ⏤ California law allows people to act in defense where there is a possible danger of sustaining injuries or being touched illegally. If you prove that your life was in imminent danger and you fired the gun to protect yourself or another person, your charges may be reduced or dismissed. However, it has to be clear that you used the required force to prevent the danger from taking place.
  • You were not aware that your actions could create risks. ⏤ This is among the most common defenses. You could argue that you did know that your actions could cause people around you death or injury. You could have also been unaware that the gun was loaded or thought it was a toy gun. You can use your attorney’s help to convince the prosecutor and, in return, have your charges reduced.
  • You discharged a firearm in an isolated place ⏤ You cannot be convicted under PC 246.3 if you fired a gun in an isolated place with no one present. But you could be charged with endangering yourself, which is a less severe charge. You can argue that you used reasonable care since you did not put other people at risk of being injured or acting negligently.
  • The discharge was accidental ⏤ If you can prove that the gun malfunctioned or that you discharged the firearm by accident, you cannot be convicted for negligent discharge of a firearm. However, even if it was an accident, you may be subjected to other offenses if you injured or killed another person.
  • You did not cause any injury or death. ⏤ This is a strong defense, especially in a case where no one was injured. Your attorney can argue that you practiced reasonable care because no one was injured, and you may, in turn, receive a lesser charge.
  • Mistaken identity ⏤ It is not uncommon that your identity or appearance may be mistaken for that of the actual defendant. For example, maybe the shooting occurred in a dark place where the witness could not properly see the offender. If asked to identify the offender, they could mistake your identity, but you can use the help of a defense attorney to prove your innocence.
  • False accusations ⏤ False accusations are not uncommon, especially from a person whose motive is to see you suffer or seek revenge for a different incident. Your attorney can review the evidence provided and look for any missing or misleading information. They can also interview the witness to check their credibility.

FAQS About Negligent Discharge of a Firearm

We have compiled a list of some frequently asked questions about negligent discharge of a firearm to help you understand this topic better.

Is it legal to fire a warning shot in Ca?

Yes. The law allows you to fire a warning shot when you believe that your life or that of another person is in great danger. But, you could face charges if you shoot to threaten or injure another person.

Where am I supposed to discharge a firearm in Ca?

The law allows you to discharge a firearm 150 yards away from an occupied place or when hunting away from people. But if you own a premise or have been permitted by the premises’ owner, you can discharge a firearm when necessary.

What is the major cause of an accidental discharge?

Disregarding safety rules and a shooter’s error are some of the most common causes of an accidental firearm discharge. It is therefore important for people to be attentive to the basic safety rules and to be extra cautious when handling a firearm.

Can an Accidental Discharge of a Firearm Make me Evicted from my Residential Area?

Yes, this happens in most cases, but it mainly depends on your residential area, residence terms, and the harm and disturbance you caused.

Can a conviction under PC 246.3 be expunged?

Only defendants who did not serve their imprisonment in state prison are eligible for a conviction expungement. And the expungement can only take place once you meet the following requirements:

  • Complete your probation and sentence term
  • Refrain from committing a subsequent offense
  • Has no pending criminal record

Offenses Related to PC 246.3

Some offenses are charged alongside or together with negligent discharge of a firearm under California law. These offenses include:

Felon in Possession of a Firearm

Three categories of people are prohibited from owning, possessing, or receiving a gun in California under PC 29800. These people are:

  • People convicted of felony crimes
  • Anyone with a prior misdemeanor charge for specific offenses
  • Those addicted to drugs

Felons with firearms law hinder defendants from possessing or owning firearms even after their jail term. California law prohibits anyone with a prior conviction of discharging a firearm negligently from owning or possessing a gun. If charged with a felon with a firearm offense, you will likely face additional six months to 3 years imprisonment after the felony penalties.

Brandishing a Deadly Weapon

The law defines this offense as when a person carries or draws a firearm in a rude, angry, or threatening manner in the presence of another person and not acting in self-defense or the defense of another person. You can be convicted of this offense regardless of whether your gun was loaded or not. There are cases where a defendant can face charges of negligent discharge of a firearm and brandishing a deadly weapon if, for example, you aim a firearm at another person angrily and then shoot in the air.

This offense is considered a wobbler meaning it can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. The charges depend on where the offense occurred and the type of injuries caused. If charged with a misdemeanor, you could face imprisonment in county jail for one year, and if charged with a felony, you could face up to three years imprisonment in state prison.

Felony Murder

This offense takes place when a defendant tries to commit a felony offense, and either of these occurs:

  • They kill another person
  • Acts with reckless disregard for human life
  • Helps another person commit first-degree murder with the intent to kill
  • They kill an officer on duty when committing a felony offense

Felony murder is classified into two, first and second felony murder. To be convicted of first-degree felony murder, you must have murdered with other felony offenses. On the other hand, a second-degree murder involves lighter felonies that are not included in PC 189 and thus carry lesser penalties. A conviction of first-degree felony murder can lead to imprisonment in state prison for 25 years, a life sentence, or the death penalty. At the same time, the second degree is punishable by 25 years imprisonment in state prison to a life sentence.

Shooting at an Inhabited Building

This offense is prohibited under PC 246, and an inhabited place, in this case, means an occupied building, vehicle, or an inhabited house. Note that you can only be convicted for this offense if someone was present in the building when the offense occurred. The same applies to a vehicle; you can only be convicted if you shoot at an occupied vehicle. This offense is more severe than a firearm's negligent discharge and is always charged as a felony. Its penalties include:

  • Maximum fines of $10,000
  • A felony/ formal probation
  • Confinement in state prison for seven years

Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me

Negligent firearm discharge is a serious offense requiring a skilled criminal defense attorney by your side if you wish to challenge the charges. We at Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm have experienced and dedicated defense lawyers who can help you create strong defenses to challenge the charges leveled against you. With the help of our professional attorneys in Riverside, California, you can be sure of great legal guidance and representation. Call us today at 951-946-6366 for a free consultation.