Shooting into a structure such as a home, car, motorhome or aircraft is unquestionably dangerous. In many cases, it’s impossible to tell if anyone is inside or not, which is precisely why you can face felony charges whether or not a dwelling was occupied. What specific charges you’ll face, as well as the penalties will vary based on the specific situation, but under California Penal Code Section 246 (PC), you could face up to 7 years in prison -and that’s if no one has been injured or killed. Needless to say, anyone who has been accused of this crime should contact a San Diego County violent crimes attorney immediately.
Shooting at an Inhabited Dwelling or Occupied Vehicle: 246 (PC)
When someone shoots at an inhabited dwelling, which can include not just a house, apartment or mobile home, or if they shoot at an occupied building or vehicle not used as a residence, including an office, restaurant, aircraft or vehicle, they can be charged with this offense. What’s particularly important to note though, is that when the crime involves a somewhere a person may live, such as a camper, home or condo, it does not matter if there was actually someone occupying the structure at the time, but only that the property was currently inhabited, meaning someone lived there at the time.
Also, the shots do not need to go into the structure, but only be shot in close proximity to the structure with a conscious disregard of the chance that the building or vehicle, or a person around it, could be hit. In other words, if someone shoots warning shots into the yard of a home, this still is against the law.
The willful discharge of a firearm at an inhabited dwelling or occupied car is always a felony in California. Those convicted could face up to 7 years in state prison, however if someone suffered great bodily injury or death as a result of this conduct, the sentence could be anywhere from 25 years to life under California Penal Code section 12022.53 (PC) known as the “10-20-life rule.” The crime also counts as a strike under the three strikes law.
It’s also worth mentioning that shooting at vehicles and homes is a common charge in gang cases, particularly when the shots come from a moving vehicle as in a drive-by shooting, and in these cases, just being the driver can result in a lengthy prison term. If the charges are found to be gang related, you will also face an additional four years in prison.
Shooting at an Unoccupied Vehicle or Uninhabited Dwelling: 247b (PC)
One of the most commonly charged crimes related to 246 (PC) is the act of shooting at an unoccupied motor vehicle or uninhabited dwelling. Essentially, this is the less serious version of 246 (PC) because it involves less risk to the public. Unlike shooting at an inhabited dwelling or occupied motor vehicle, this crime is a wobbler, which means it may be filed as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the specifics of the situation. When filed as a misdemeanor, it carries a penalty of up to one year in county jail. As a felony, the sentence can include up to 3 years in a California state prison.
Defenses to 246 (PC) and 247b (PC)
There are many strong legal defenses to these crimes that are used by attorneys in California. One of the most common defenses to both crimes is to claim the incident was an accident. If you did not mean to fire the gun, you are not actually guilty of either criminal charge. If you were accused of shooting at an occupied vehicle or inhabited dwelling and you meant to shoot the gun, but meant to fire it up in the air or otherwise were not aiming at the structure, you could have the charges reduced to negligent discharge (California Penal Code section 246.3 (PC), which, like 247b is a wobbler with a maximum sentence of up to 3 years.
Perhaps the strongest possible defense to shooting a firearm though is acting in self defense. This is known as a total defense, meaning if your criminal defense lawyer successfully argues that you were acting to protect yourself or someone else, you cannot be found guilty.
Of course, you can also always argue that the incident was a matter of mistaken identity, but this is something that should only be attempted with the help of your criminal defense attorney because if you claim you didn’t fire the gun, but the prosecution matches your gun to the bullets found on the scene, then they will have evidence you were lying -unless you also claimed that someone else used your gun.
Why not applicable in cases involving an inhabited dwelling or occupied vehicle, if you fired the gun at the structure with the permission of the owner, this can also serve as a total defense -as long as the permission was given before you shot the firearm.
If you have been accused of either of these serious offenses, attorney Peter M. Liss can help you fight the charges. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.