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What is Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance?

Simple Assault”, and some forms of Assault with a Deadly Weapon are known as “wobbler offenses” in California; this means that the Prosecution can choose to bring the charges against you as a misdemeanor or a felony based on the facts of your case. As your conduct becomes more culpable, the Prosecutor will lean towards charging your conduct as a felony. Naturally, felony convictions carry much more severe consequencesi. There are some forms of assault however, that must be brought as a felony; committing an assault with a semi-automatic weapon or a machine gun are one those types of assault. This article focuses on other forms of assault that must be brought as a felony charge; Assault with a Caustic Chemical and Assault with a Flammable Substance.

Assault with a Caustic Chemical and Assault with a Flammable Substance differ from the other forms of Assault in a number of ways. First, while Assault is a general intent crime, Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance requires that the actor behave both “willfully” and “maliciously.” Second, there is no version of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance that can be brought as a misdemeanor. Finally, a completed Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance is known as the crime of “Mayhemii”, whereas any other completed version of Assaultiii is known as a “Batteryiv”. It is beyond the scope of this article, but the distinction has an immense impact on both the sentencing you will face, and the consequences you will face if you are charged with criminal conduct in the future.

California seeks to punish certain conduct more harshly than others. It is important to repeat that, Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance will always be charged as a felonyv. A felony charge allows for incarceration for over a year in state prison, and fines of over one thousand ($1,000) dollars. As such, it is imperative that you retain a skilled attorney to protect your interests and your freedom immediately after you have been arrested for Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance. This article will inform the reader of: (1) the various elements of Assault with a Caustic Chemic or Flammable substance, (2) the penalties associated with a conviction for this crime; and (3) what an attorney from Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer can do to ensure the most beneficial outcome to your case.

The crime of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Assault with a Flammable Substance is defined in California Penal Code §244. The Jury Instructions for this crime can be found in CALCRIM 877vi. In order to obtain a conviction for Assault with a Caustic Chemical or a Flammable Substance, the Prosecutor must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The Defendant acted willfully;
  2. The Defendant acted maliciously;
  3. While acting willfully and with malice, the Defendant caused the Victim to be contacted by a substance;
  4. That substance was either a caustic chemical or a flammable substance; AND
  5. When the Defendant acted willfully and with malice, the Defendant simultaneously intended to disfigure the body or injure the flesh of the Victim

At the outset, it should be noted that while this crime is named “assault” it is not truly an assault crime, as it requires that the Defendant actually make contact, whereas true assault crimes simply require an act that could result in contact. A common angle of defense is that the Prosecution failed to prove every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In order to do this, it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of each element of the crime. The attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer have decades of combined experience representing clients who are accused of criminal conduct across the spectrum; including Assault with a Caustic Chemical or a Flammable Substance. The first part of this article will familiarize the reader with the elements of this crime.

What Does the Element “Causing the Victim to be Contacted by a Substance” Mean?

As mentioned above, the crime of Assault with a “Caustic“ Chemical or Flammable Substance is fundamentally different from every other assault crime because to be guilty of the crime, the Defendant must have actually caused contact with the Victim. There are four (4) ways to satisfy this elementvii: (1) The Defendant actually placed the substance on the Victim, (2) The Victim caused the substance to be placed on the Victim, (3) The Defendant threw the substance at the Victim; or (4) The Defendant caused the substance to be thrown at the Victim. If the substance actually made contact with the Victim, then this element will be satisfied provided the Defendant was the individual who caused the events leading to that outcome. The next element of the crime deals with the nature of the substance the Defendant caused to make contact with the Victim.

What is a Caustic Chemical?

Merriam-Webster defines “caustic” as something that is capable of destroying or eating away by chemical action. Corrosive chemicals are broken down into two types; acids and bases. The most common corrosive acids include: sulfuric acidviii, nitric acidix, hydrochloric acidx, formic acid, acetic acid, aluminum chloride, boron trifluoride, and zinc chloride. Common corrosive bases include: sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, and calcium hydroxide. If the substance is not considered a “caustic chemical”, then the only other type of substance that will suffice to maintain a conviction for this crime is a “flammable substance.”

What is a Flammable Substance?

According to the statute, a “flammable substance” is gasoline, other petroleum based substances, or any other substance with a flashpoint of 150F. The “flashpoint” is the temperature at which a particular organic compound gives off sufficient vapor to ignite in air. Once the Prosecutor has established that the Defendant caused the substance to make contact with the Victim, and the substance was either a caustic chemical, or a flammable substance, the Prosecution must then prove the mindset of the Defendant at the time they engaged in their conduct.

What Does it Mean to Act Willfully?

As mentioned throughout this website, in numerous articles, crimes are broken into two types based on the “intent” the law requires the Defendant to have in order to be convicted. In turn, these “intent” requirements limit which defenses the Defendant can raise to defeat the Prosecutor’s case against themxi. Assault is a general intent crime, and simply requires that they intend to do the act that gives rise to the Assault charges against them, the Defendant does not need to intend the outcome of their actions. There has been some debate in the legal community as to whether this definition is sufficient to truly embody what it means for the Defendant to have acted “willfully.” It has been suggested that the correct definition of willfully would state that a person acts “willfully” when they do the act on purpose, they know what they are doing, and they intend to do that actxii. This definition seems more in line with what is required, as many defenses to this element centers on the fact that the Defendant did not act intentionallyxiii, or that they did not know what they were doingxiv. Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance is different from other assault charges for the reason that it also requires that the Defendant act with “malice” when engaging in their conduct.

What Does it Mean to Act Maliciously?

The second mental component required for a conviction of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance is that the Defendant acted maliciously when they caused the caustic chemical or flammable substance to make contact with the victim. California Penal Code §7(4) defines “maliciously” as a wish to annoy, vex, or injure the person of another, or an intention to commit another wrongful act. Finally, the Prosecution must prove that at the time the Defendant acted, the Defendant had a specific outcome they intended, this is known as a “specific intent crime”, which is yet another way the crime of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance differs from the other assault crimes.

What is the “Specific Intent” Required to be Convicted of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance?

The final element that the Prosecution must prove in order to properly convict a Defendant accused of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance is that at the time the Defendant engaged in the conduct, which resulted in a defined substance making contact with the Victim, the Defendant specifically intended to injure the Victim’s flesh or disfigure the Victim’s body. If the Prosecutor cannot prove the intent behind the Defendant’s conduct, the Defendant will likely be convicted of a Battery with Serious Bodily Injury (Link to “Battery Serious Bodily Injury). Another key difference between Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance and other assault crimes is that completion of this crime is Mayhemxv as opposed to Battery.

Since the crime of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance is a “specific intent crime”, there are a number of defenses that your attorney can raise to negate the possibility of the Defendant possessing the requisite intent at the time they committed the crime.

As mentioned multiple times, if you are charged with a violation of §244, you will be charged with felony. The consequences of a conviction for a violent felony include increased prison time, and the addition of a “strike” to the Defendant’s record pursuant to California’s Three Strikes Law. With so much at stake, it is important to hire the very best attorney that money can afford; that is what Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer provides.

If you are convicted of Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance, you will face incarceration in California state prison for a period of two (2), three (3), or four (4) years.

Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance is considered a “violent felony” and conviction will count as a “strike” against the Defendant under the California Three Strikes Law. The impact of a prior “strike” cannot be understated. In the event that you already had a “strike” on your record, and you are convicted for violation of §244, you can face double the statutory penalty; four (4), six (6), or eight (8) years in state prison. If this is your third “strike”, you will face incarceration in state prison for a period ranging from twenty-five (25) years to life. If you are facing charges for Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance, it is imperative that you contact an attorney from Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately.

I Have Been Arrested for Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance, What can Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer do for Me?

As mentioned numerous times throughout this article, Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance is a felony in California. Further, it is a “strikeable” offense under the California Three Strikes Law. The impact if a conviction for a “strikeable” felony is substantial, if not life-altering. In the event that you are charged with criminal conduct, that has violence as an aspect of it; the Prosecution will present evidence of your conviction to the jury. If the jury is exposed to this information, it is possible they will view the case against you more favorably than otherwise. Further, previous convictions of this nature will generally lead the sentencing judge to apply more harsh penalties than they would have otherwise.

Felony convictions appear on your criminal background check, which is frequently reviewed by people for reasons unrelated to law enforcement. The most common example of this is background checks, which are routinely conducted by employers. Many employers view a criminal conviction, especially for a violent felony, as a sufficient reason to not hire individuals.

For all of these reasons, it is imperative that you contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer immediately if you have been arrested. From the moment you participate in your free initial consultation, you will receive your attorney’s undivided attention. Utilizing the information your LACL attorney gained from the consultation, your attorney will investigate all the available information and contact the District Attorney to attempt to convince the Prosecutor to reduce the charges against you for lack of evidence. In the event that the Prosecutor will not reduce the charges, and takes the case to trial, your LACL attorney will bring their considerable experience to trial and present a tailor-made defense to your case. Ultimately, sometimes our clients are convicted. If you are convicted, your LACL attorney will vigorously advocate for reduced, or even alternate, sentencing.

There are many defenses your LACL attorney can raise to defeat the charges against you. Some of these defenses include:

  • Self-defense, or defense of others

The law recognizes that there some situations where wrongful conduct is excusable because it was performed in to protect the Defendant, or someone else, from substantial harm. If you believe your conduct was justified, it is important to inform your LACL attorney of that fact in your initial consultation.

  • You didn’t cause the caustic or flammable substance to contact the Victim

Frequently, the Prosecution cannot adequately prove that you were responsible for the contact. Merely leaving a chemical around with the hope that it disfigure or injure the victim is not enough.

EXAMPLE:

Vince was a problem employee for Tom at the local chemical plant. One day, Tom decided to leave a container of acid on a shelf above Vince’s desk, in the hopes that it would fall and hurt Vince. A week later, Vince, who saw the container of acid on the shelf above him, hit the shelf with a bat. The container subsequently fell and burnt Vince’s skin. A skilled attorney would argue that Tom did not cause the contact, Vince did. If the jury agreed, the charges against Tom would fail notwithstanding his evil intentions.

  • You did not act willfully

Sometimes situations outside the Defendant’s conduct force them to act in ways they did not intend. Tripping, fainting, seizures, etc., are examples of these situations.

  • You did not act with malice
  • You did not specifically intend to injure the skin, or disfigure the body of the victim.
  • The substance was neither caustic nor flammable
  • Duress
  • Coercion
  • Involuntary intoxication
  • Voluntary intoxication
  • Mistake of Fact

If you or a loved one has been arrest for Assault with a Caustic Chemical or Flammable Substance, contact Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer at 310-502-1314 for a FREE consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.


iA misdemeanor carries a maximum punishment of up to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000. A felony however, does not those limitations.

ii California Penal Code §203

iii Naturally, other charges will be brought depending on the outcome of the battery, and the intent of the Defendant in committing the battery.

iv California Penal Code §242

v Every other variation of “Assault” has certain aspects to it which are known as “wobbler offenses.” This means that, depending on the facts of the case, the charge will be brought as a misdemeanor or a felony.

vi The Judicial Council of California Advisory Committee on Criminal Jury Instructions “CALCRIM” has issued model jury instructions for every crime in California.

vii While the first two possibilities seem to include the last two possibilities, the statute specifies all four.

viii H2SO4

ix HNO3

x HCI

xi The two types of intent are known as “general intent crimes” and “specific intent crimes.” The phrase “willfully” in a criminal statute indicates that it is a general intent crime, while “with the intent to…” indicates a specific intent crime; Assault is a general intent crime.

xii California Crim. Jury Instr. Companion Handbook § 5:1, California Crim. Jury Instr. Companion Handbook § 5:1

xiii Seizure, fainting, involuntary tic, etc.,

xiv Also known as a mistake of fact: operating a device they could not have known might cause physical force to be applied to another person.

xv The completion of this crime is that it resulted in injury to the flesh, or disfigurement of the body.

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