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Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance

If you or a loved one are accused of assault in the State of California, know that you have options to fight these allegations. Assault is a widely-defined action that can result in a criminal or civil court decision against those who are found guilty of such actions. Certain, more specific types of assault are, however, punished more harshly.

One specific type of assault – known formally as assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance – is a unique and well-defined type of assault. Unlike other forms of assault, this charge implies that a person intentionally used some sort of chemical to enflame or burn another person and that the chemical did in fact make contact with the person’s body.

Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer is an experienced defense legal team and we have successfully defended many cases of assault across the greater Los Angeles area. We have also won cases specific related to assault with a caustic chemical or with a flammable substance. We put together this overview of the crime for you to understand the basics: what constitutes the crime, who may be involved, and what actions you have to protect and defend against these accusations.

The article is information in nature, which means it shall not be used as legal advice. Instead, seek or consult with a professional defense attorney for specific legal counsel in your case. Remember that a charge of assault is not the same as a conviction – being deemed guilty – of assault.

Understanding assault in California

Assault is legally defined as the willful intent as well as the present capability to inflict violence or harm on another person. The State of California makes assault illegal in both criminal and civil matters, with punishments appropriate to each type.

Importantly, assault and battery are not the same thing, though they are often talked about together. Assault is the attempt and intent to do bodily harm, while battery is the actual event of doing harm to another person.

Assault is a bit of an umbrella term. A person can be charged and convicted of assault, often known as simple assault. Or, depending on the circumstances, a more specific type of assault may be more appropriate. The State of California recognizes the following types of assault beyond general assault:

  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance
  • Assault on a public official

This article focuses on assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance.

Assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance

This type of assault is more severe than a simple assault charge. California law defines assault with caustic chemicals or flammable substance as one person placing, throwing, or otherwise locating any type of caustic chemical or flammable substance on the body of another person, with the intent to disfigure or otherwise cause bodily injury to the person. This can include situating the chemical in a way that makes it fall or land on the body of the other person.

Importantly, this type of assault is significantly different from simple assault and other specific subsets of assault because it does require that the substance actually touch or otherwise make contact with the alleged victim. (Other assault only requires the intent and attempt to make contact with the victim.)

The State of California recognizes this assault as a felony, with punishments often involving imprisonment in a state prison for two, three, or four years.

California Penal Code Section 244 specifically deals with assault of this manner, and the larger Sections 240-248 handle assault more generally and the other subsets of assault.

What are caustic chemicals and flammable substances?

The law defines caustic chemicals and flammable substances as follows:

- Gasoline

- Petroleum products, including but not limited to:

  • Diesel fuel
  • Kerosene
  • Motor oil
  • Sulphur
  • Crude oil
  • Liquified petroleum gas

- Flammable liquids with a flashpoint of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, including but not limited to:

  • Oil-based paints
  • Mineral oil
  • Cleaning solvents

The term ‘caustic’ refers to any chemical that can burn or corrode natural tissues, such as skin or body organs, due to a chemical reaction. Flammable substances are determined by a specific flashpoint, which is the minimum temperature that a liquid forms a sufficient vapor above its surface that allows the substance to be ignited, or set on fire.

It is difficult to prove assault with a caustic chemical

Just because you may be charged with this specific type of assault does not mean you will be proven guilty. In fact, guilt is notoriously difficult to prove in cases of assault with caustic chemicals or flammable substances for a few reasons.

Firstly, it is vital to remember that the onus of proof is always on the prosecutor (the lawyer representing the alleged victim, the person who made the case against you). As the defendant (person accused of the crime), you and your defense attorney are there to provide facts and cast doubt on the angles that the prosecutor attempts to portray as truths.

Here are some factors that can make it difficult to prove assault with caustic chemicals and flammable substances:

- Proving you acted willfully and maliciously. In this context, ‘willfully’ means that you both had control of your actions that caused the chemicals or substances to make contact with the victim.

  • For example, perhaps you work in a chemical plant that makes particularly caustic chemicals. A colleague may have asked you to move chemicals that were in his way or had potential to fall.
  • If you did not move the chemicals, but they fell and injured your colleague, you are not guilty because the act was not performed with will or with malice.
  • If, however, you located the chemicals in a way that ensured the chemicals would fall on your colleague as he passed by, you may be determined guilty of the charge.

- Proving intent to injure. The law requires the prosecutor show proof beyond a reasonable doubt that you had willfully and maliciously intended to cause harm, injury, or disfigurement to the victim. This often involves a discussion of motives – what motivated you to act as you did? Was your motive strong enough to want or need to injure the other person?

  • For example, perhaps your neighbor has been doing work on their lawn that oversteps onto your property. You’ve asked the neighbor to stick to his or her own property, but the neighbor continued, to your annoyance and frustration. You again spoke with the neighbor, over your property line, but the neighbor responded by throwing acid at your body, which reached you and burned the skin on your arm. Because the neighbor may have been frustrated and angry at you, this could prove an intent to injure you. Depending on more specific physical evidence, your neighbor could be found guilty of the charge.

Steps to take when charged with assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance

If you are charged with this assault or believe you may be, you have many steps to take to defend yourself.

The first stp to the time you’re in a courtroom – which means you may forget many details. Write down or record in a private document in your phone or computer the following details as best you can remember:

- Date and time

- Location – Public? Private? A room within a building? An apartment or house?

-  People present at the time – you, the alleged victim, and any others (remember that these people may be able to serve as witnesses, whether for you or for the other party, if your case goes that far)

- Words or actions that you said or committed and exchanged with others present

- Did you act in self-defense? What actions lead to your needing to protect yourself physically?

If you have a prior relationship with the alleged victim, add that information to your log. Define your relationship, list how long you’ve known them, write down any actions or conversations that make you fearful or suspicious of the person.

The next step is to consult with professional defense lawyers. Because you are charged with a crime, a defense lawyer specializes in how to defend people against wrongful allegations as well as specific crimes. Seek a lawyer who has experience in assault cases, particularly in the San Diego region, as both local and state laws may come into play.

Choosing a lawyer is the next step. Only once you’ve chosen a lawyer should you share the entire accounting of the incident, as well as any mitigating factors. Remember that your lawyer’s job is to defend you, so you are protected by privacy obligations. That means you should share all information related to the instance, even if you believe it compromises you. Only upon understanding your case fully can a lawyer choose the right defense for you.

At every step of the process, be sure to understand your rights. Ask questions until you know you are choosing the best action for your defense. As always, just because you are charged with something doesn’t mean you’ll be proven guilty or prosecuted for the alleged crime. Your lawyer can walk you through the several options at your disposal, which may include:

- Settling out of court, often for a monetary amount

- Taking a plea bargain, which is accepting a guilty verdict in lieu of judgment before a court and in exchange for a lighter punishment

- Taking your case to court, to allow a judge and courtroom to make a decision on whether you are guilty or innocent

Common defense strategies for assault charges

Should you and your lawyer opt to take your case to court, your lawyer will work alongside you to develop the best defense strategy. Some common defense strategies for assault include:

- Defending yourself or defending others. Self-defense is a wide-ranging theory that may be applicable to your situation. The idea behind self-defense is that your wrongful conduct may be excused because it was performed in other to protect or defend yourself or someone else from substantial or significant harm. As soon as you believe self-defense may play a part in your situation, alert your lawyer.

- Showing you didn’t cause the chemicals to make contact with or otherwise touch the victim. While you don’t have the legal burden to prove this, a skilled defense lawyer will be able to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s attempts to show you physically caused the chemicals to touch the alleged victim. Chemicals may be present, and you may have bought them or placed them there for another reason but proving that you somehow threw and successfully placed the chemicals onto the victim’s body will require physical evidence and not simply circumstances that make assumptions or seem likely.

- Indicating that it was an accident. This is a slight variation on the above defense strategy. Instead of admitting you didn’t cause the chemical contact, your defense lawyer angles it such that even if you caused the chemical to come in contact with the alleged victim, that it was an accident. This strategy requires the prosecutor to deal with complicated topics such as intent, will, and malice, which, as shown earlier, can be difficult to prove.

- Suggesting a victim motivation. Depending on your relationship with the alleged victim, you and your lawyer may be able to determine that the other party is making such accusations against you because he or she is motivated by exterior circumstances, such as a need to exact revenge against you for something. Your lawyer may determine that exploring the accuser’s background could shed light on such a story.

- Pleading innocence. Of course, you always have the right to plead innocent. While not a specific defense strategy, the way you plead prior to a court case can color the entire legal proceedings.

Punishment for assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance

If you are proven guilty of assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance in the State of California, your punishment will include imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, in line with punishments for felonies.

Because this crime is a considered a more severe felony, as opposed to a less severe misdemeanor, you will be subject to the Three Strikes Rule. This sentencing scheme intends to punish repeat felony offenders (felons) by adding significant imprisonment time to the minimum sentences applicable.

For example, if this is your first felony conviction, you will be punished by the standard two, three, or four years in a state prison. If, however, you have a first or second strike already on your record, you can be sentenced to a longer prison sentence, up to 25 years.

Determining assault: true or false

Assault refers to any instance one person makes intentional, illegal contact with another person. False. The is the definition of a sometimes-related crime known as battery. Assault, on the contrary, is any person’s intentional attempt to inflict bodily harm to another person.

In most situations, assault refers to the attempt to harm, not to the physical harming. True. Assault includes a physical attempt – not a thought, but an action that intended to succeed in inflicting bodily harm but failed.

A major difference in simple assault and assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance is that the caustic chemical or substance must actually make contact with another person’s body. True. While most assault refers to a failed attempt to inflict bodily harm, a conviction of assault with chemicals or with flammable substances requires that the chemical in question actually did make contact – intentional, willful contact – with the body of another person.

Caustic chemicals and flammable substances are limited only to gasoline. False. California’s law makes illegal many substances that can cause bodily harm, such as burnt flesh, disfigured skin or facial features, and significant, subsequent health issues. Additional examples include acid, kerosene, Sulphur, oil-based paints, and even certain cleaning solvents.

A charge is the same as a guilty conviction. False. If you are charged with a crime, it is simply a formal accusation of a certain action or activity. Then a legal process takes place, with help from your defense lawyer, to determine whether you are actually guilty of the crime. This final decision of guilt is known as a conviction and is accompanied by specific punishments as established by California laws.

To understand the charges against you or a loved one, get in touch with Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer. We can help you make sense of charged assault with a caustic chemical or flammable substance, as well as guide you towards your best options to defend against a conviction of this crime. Call 310-502-1314 to speak with the legal team at Low Angeles Criminal Lawyer today.

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