Involvement in criminal offenses will attract severe consequences, primarily when the crime committed affects the victim for the rest of his/her life. Assault with caustic or flammable chemicals is one of the most adverse and severe forms of the crime of aggression, mainly because of the outcomes suffered by the victim of the incident. Over time, access to highly corrosive chemicals has become more accessible, mainly because of the growing industrialization rate, among other developments. Therefore, you can easily access caustic chemicals or flammable substances to conduct an assault crime. With the increasing numbers of victims of this type of assault, trial in court is likely to yield negative consequences to the accused person, especially when the circumstances of the crime point out a clear intention to undertake the action of exposing another person to the hazardous chemicals.
Nevertheless, you can raise defenses to the charges you face if you have a solid point of reference for your actions. To ensure that your defenses are persuasive enough, you will need a competent criminal attorney to help you transparently articulate your arguments. At the Pasadena Criminal Attorney, you will receive exceptional legal assistance with any criminal case, including assault with caustic or flammable chemicals. Over the years, we have helped our clients present the best defenses in court, to lead to a better case outcome. Moreover, our qualified lawyers are happy to offer general legal advice concerning your case to help you understand how the legal system works.
Elements of Assault With Caustic Chemicals or Flammable Substances
The California Penal Code provides an elaborate definition of the elements that lead to the commission of assault using dangerous chemicals. From these elements, you get to understand what the prosecutor will have to prove in court to convince the judge or jury of your criminal intentions. Section 244 of the Penal Code breaks down the elements of the crime, all of which must be present to face assault charges. The components of the crime should indicate the following:
You Placed, Threw or Caused the Chemical to be Thrown
The first element of the crime involves the causation of a chemical to escape from its storage container, by manipulating the container to discharge the contents. Essentially, this is the Actus reus element for the crime, used by the prosecutor to demonstrate that you directly orchestrated the action that amounted to criminal activity. One of the scenarios that would amount to an act of placing or throwing the caustic chemical or flammable substance would be if you are in control of the container, and swing it to release the chemical. Therefore, you may approach the victim of the crime tactfully and throw the chemical suddenly, giving the person a slow reaction time to try and escape. In such a scenario, the prosecutor often relies on footage evidence to demonstrate how you undertook the illegal activity of throwing the chemical onto someone else.
In other scenarios, you may not exercise direct control but may manipulate other objects within your reach to cause the throwing or placing of the corrosive substance. For example, if you work in a premise where flammable substances are easily accessible, you may leave a container full of a combustible material open, causing it to spill on an unsuspecting victim. As long as the prosecution’s team can show a direct link between exposing others to the impending danger of exposure to the liquid, you will face assault charges. For a successful demonstration of your direct involvement in causing the placing or throwing of a caustic or flammable substance, the prosecutor relies on surveillance footage and traces of evidence like fingerprints.
You Threw the Chemical on Someone Else
Evidence showing that you threw the substance is insufficient, as it may result in different outcomes. Thus, the prosecutor must show that you directed the harmful chemical on someone else. Often, he/she uses the victim’s testimony as a source of evidence to prove your guilt, mainly because the affected person is the direct receptor of your actions. While such a source of evidence is acceptable in court, your criminal lawyer can always challenge a witness statement based on inaccuracies. The rationale behind such an objection is that human memory sometimes provides distorted information that could result in false allegations to you, the defendant. However, if the prosecutor also provides more persuasive sources of evidence like surveillance footage, your criminal lawyer’s argument becomes void.
On top of proving that you directed the chemical to another person, the evidence that the prosecution’s team releases should show that you had marked the accident victim and determined him/her as the direct target of your actions. Consequently, If you threw the caustic chemical or flammable substance on an unsuspecting third party, your criminal defense lawyer may raise a defense. It will show that you did not harm the victim, who eventually suffers from your act of throwing the dangerous chemical. Despite such a line of argument, you will still be responsible for the harm done to the person who suffers severe injury from your act of throwing the corrosive chemical. The matter of whether he/she was your prime target is immaterial.
The Substance Thrown was a Caustic Chemical or a Flammable Substance
One of the crucial points of determination in an assault case using caustic chemicals or a flammable substance is whether the chemical in question meets the definition given in the Penal Code. Section 244 defines a caustic chemical as a substance that causes severe damage to living tissue cells. The damage caused by the chemical could cause burning of the skin, where the outermost layer changes color and chars out from the chemical combination of the caustic substance.
Additionally, more concentrated chemicals result in severe body disfigurement because they destroy the skin tissue and sink into the victim’s internal body structure. For example, if the acid chemical lands on a victim’s neck, it will seep into the person’s inner tissue and cause severe damage to the throat and windpipe. Consequently, such a victim may never be able to speak again because of the damage caused to the voicebox.
Examples of caustic chemicals include Vitriol. The combination of Vitriol consists of a large concentration of Sulfuric acid, coupled with several other elements that lead to a highly corrosive end product. When exposed to a victim, the Vitriol can cause severe body disfigurement as it destroys the skin quickly, and eats into the bones. Moreover, some cleaning solutions like bleach result in dangerous effects when exposed to a victim’s skin. The severity of corrosion depends on the acid concentration in each caustic chemical.
On the other hand, flammable substances are chemical liquids with an ignition temperature of up to 150 Degrees Fahrenheit. Essentially, this means that immediately the combustible material is lit, it will burn at the given temperature, causing irreversible damage to any victim exposed to the harm. An excellent example of a commonly used flammable substance is the gasoline that has the standard ignition temperature of 150 Degrees Fahrenheit. On top of this, several oil-based paints and diesel are common substances used by defendants in assault crimes to impose harm on the victim.
If there is any dispute raised by your criminal defense lawyer concerning the validity of the substance in question being corrosive or flammable, he/she can request the judge to allow an expert chemical analyst to give a professional opinion. Such a situation arises where you, as the defendant, are sure that the substance was not corrosive to prove your innocence. However, such occurrences are rare, mainly because the prosecution will conduct due diligence and engage a chemical expert beforehand to validate their claims.
Your Action was Malicious and Wilful
In an assault charge, your actions must have been malicious and done wilfully, meaning that you decided to act on your own will.
Often, proving that you had malicious aims with your actions requires the prosecutor to run a background check and analyze the relationship between you and the victim. Therefore, the prosecution will rely on inference and deduction strategies from the information they receive during conduction investigations. For example, if you and the victim were opponents in friendly school competitions in the past, your malicious intentions may be unearthed from information that shows you were discontent with the victim’s success over you. As a result, the prosecutor may use the details uncovered to get more confessions from you, especially during the cross-examination hearing.
Consequently, we advise you to refrain as much as you can from allowing the prosecutor’s statement to invoke emotions during the cross-examination, to prevent the release of self-incriminating evidence. For example, you are entitled to decline answering questions like whether you were jealous of the victim’s physical appearance leading to your illegal actions.
Secondly, a wilful intention involves a voluntary act, with no external influence on your actions. During a hearing, the prosecutor mostly links your malice with the voluntary work, mainly because the malicious intention inevitably leads to a course of action. Thus, the prosecutor’s sources of evidence will combine the formulation of malicious intent with the decision to undertake assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance.
You Intended to Cause Great Bodily Harm or Disfigurement on the victim
Apart from proving that you had a malicious intent driving you to perform the illegal action of throwing a flammable or corrosive substance on the victim, the prosecutor must go ahead and show that your intention was causing severe bodily harm. Most of your actions will be used by the prosecution to demonstrate that you intended to harm the assault victim severely. For example, if you poured the corrosive chemical on the victim’s body repeatedly, the prosecutor can build an argument to prove that your actions were to yield the worst possible outcome for the injured person.
Moreover, if you threw the harmful substance in a strategic position that would cause the worst effects, your actions will indicate that you aimed at causing disfigurement of the victim’s body. One of the most common examples for such a case is where a defendant targets the victim’s face exclusively, mainly because it is the most conspicuous feature on any person. Therefore, performing the assault using calculated moves that target specific body parts build up the prosecutor’s case in proving that you had criminal intentions to harm the victim in the worst way possible.
Lastly, it is essential to remember that you do not need to complete the action that inflicts bodily harm on the victim in an assault case. Thus, even an attempt to throw or place the corrosive chemical substance may result in assault charges on your part. The only underlying condition is that your actions should invoke enough apprehension in the victim to cause fear of death or severe harm. Consequently, even if your act of throwing the chemical substance did not cause any significant damage to the victim, you will still face assault charges, mainly for possessing a criminal intention to cause substantial bodily injury.
Penalties to the Crime of Assault With Caustic Chemicals or Flammable Substances
When the prosecutor proves all the crime elements beyond any reasonable doubt, the presiding judge or jury will find you guilty of the offense. The crime of assault using corrosive chemical substances is a felony that attracts significant implications.
You will face two to four years in state prison or commit to a $10,000 fine. Alternatively, the judge may decide to enhance your penalty and issue both punishments, especially if your case had aggravating factors. Some of the actions that may aggravate your situation significantly are:
- Using violence or force to hold the victim down as you pour the harmful substance on him/her
- Engaging in the theft of the caustic chemical or flammable material to use on the victim
- Causing the subsequent death of a victim after he/she succumbs to great bodily harm
Apart from the formal penalties issued, your criminal lawyer may plead for a parole sentence in place of strict imprisonment terms. If your attorney is successful, you will undergo the formal probation program. Before becoming eligible for the probation, the minimum requirements require you to spend at least one year in jail, as well as payment of several court fines to satisfy the judicial process. Afterward, you can fully engage in the probation process, but will still have to follow specific regulations or risk facing additional penalties for defaulting.
Firstly, you will have to follow the regulations provided in the victim’s restraining or protective order. The orders contain detailed rules that prevent you from coming into contact with the assault victim. Moreover, the laws prohibit you from being within a specific mile radius of the complainant’s vicinity.
The other requirement to uphold is undertaking community service as directed by the judge. You will have to meet time specifications that require you to work for a minimum period.
Moreover, you will have to pay the complainant a restitution fee for the effects of your assault. Essentially, the price is supposed to compensate the victim for the harm done, aiming to restore his/her usual lifestyle. Although the restitution fee may not reverse the traumatic experience, paying it to the victim will help him/her economic situation.
Lastly, probation regulations will require you to meet with your probation officer frequently, to allow for full tracking of progress. Additionally, meeting with the officer enables him/her to record all necessary information concerning your reform to submit it to the judge. If you demonstrate a positive trend, your probation sentence may face a reduction.
Defenses for Assault With Caustic CHemicals or Flammable Substances
Your criminal attorney plays a significant role in countering the prosecutor’s claims, thanks to the possible defenses available to the crime of assault with corrosive chemicals. When determining the defense to apply to your case, your lawyer will help you analyze the facts of your case to ensure that you only use those that have a direct impact on your set of circumstances. The following are the available defenses applicable to the crime of assault with caustic chemicals or flammable substances:
You Acted in Defense
If your actions aimed at defending yourself or others from danger imposed by the complainant, the act of throwing a corrosive substance on him/her is justifiable defense. In this case, your actions are viewed as a reasonable retaliation to avert the danger or harm. Despite the validity of self dense as a legal argument, your lawyer should ensure that the facts of your case meet the following conditions:
- You had enough reason to believe that the complainant exposed you or others near you to danger
- In this case, the force you used pouring the chemical substance on the complainant was reasonable and proportional to the threat of danger imposed on you
- Your action was the only available alternative to avoiding harm or danger
Since the circumstance surrounding each case may vary, your lawyer will use the information you provide regarding the events of the case to determine whether self-defense serves as a valid argument. Therefore, it is crucial to give your attorney all the facts of the situation you remember, to ensure that the prosecutor does not access a loophole that may trap you during proceedings.
Your Act was Not Wilful
A common occurrence whereby the defendant was coerced to act for a third party leads to the conviction of innocent people who worked out of fear. If your actions revolve around such circumstances, you can engage your criminal attorney in detailed discussions that name the mastermind of the plan and any other parties to the crime. In doing so, you will have provided adequate information to shift the blame to the respective individual who forced you into committing the assault.
However, you should note that the threats or coercion used to force you into acting on behalf of the third party should only threaten to impose danger on you. Therefore, in law, threats to harm your family or loved ones are not sufficient reasons to commit a crime.
You Lacked the Intention to Injure the Victim
Raising a defense against having a criminal intention to act is a bold move because if successful, it demolishes the prosecutor’s entire basis of argument. Thus, when you decide to use the defense of absent criminal intention, you must show that your action was an accident, or that you acted out of coercion. Nevertheless, you need to understand that using an accident as your defense line may attract additional charges, especially if the prosecutor can prove that your accident arose from negligent undertakings.
Additionally, this defense is useful in building up the argument of self-defense, whereby you are trying to show that your actions were in avoidance of harm. Discussing the available lines of evidence with your criminal attorney will build your case, and promote a successful application of any defense you choose.
Crimes Related to Assault with Caustic Chemicals or a Flammable Substance
Several crimes have similar characteristics and penalties for assaulting with caustic or flammable chemicals, safe for the mode of inflicting harm used. Learning about them may help you discover additional details that can also apply to your case. The related crimes are:
Section 242 of the Penal Code describes assault as the infliction of violence to a victim, which is different from the attack that may involve mere attempts to use force. However, the result of both crimes bring about injured victims who may suffer significant bodily harm.
The penalties for battery include paying a $2000 fine and spending six months in county jail.
Assault With a Deadly Weapon
Charges involving assault with a deadly weapon amount to a wobbler crime that may attract misdemeanor or felony charges. Under section 245 of the Penal Code, the crime consists of using a lethal weapon to harm or cause fear of impending danger using the weapon. While corrosive chemicals may not cause severe bodily harm, deadly weapons must result in grievous injury, for the charges to suffice.
When charged as a misdemeanor, the crime results in a year in county jail or a $1,000 fine. As a felony, assault with a deadly weapon attracts similar penalties for assault using caustic or flammable substances.
Find a Criminal Attorney Near Me
Numerous factors play significant roles in establishing innocence or guilt in a criminal proceeding. Some of these factors may be imposed on you unfairly and could lead to an unjust conviction. Hiring a criminal defense attorney to help you with an assault charge is beneficial to your case, as it ensures you have access to professional legal assistance. At the Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we put all our clients’ needs first and strive to provide the best legal services for assault charges in Pasadena, California. Give us a call today at 626-689-2277.