The 4th of July is the ultimate celebration of American freedom, but if you violate San Diego fireworks laws by possessing or using illegal pyrotechnics, you could end up losing your freedom. In fact, only those licensed to use fireworks can possess any type of these explosives, even sparklers, in San Diego County without risk of criminal charges. With the 4th of July coming up soon, you should know the potential penalties and why these devices are illegal in the county.
Are Fireworks Illegal in San Diego?
Unequivocally, yes, fireworks are illegal in San Diego city and county. While some forms of fireworks are legal in California as a whole, San Diego prohibits their use within the entire county. This means that while you can purchase what are known as “safe and sane fireworks” under state law in the neighboring Imperial and Orange Counties (though individual cities in these areas may have their own more restrictive rules), you cannot use them or even possess them in San Diego County limits. The same is true for Riverside County and Los Angeles.
This is because while safe and sane fireworks are generally considered safe, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says there is no safe way to use consumer fireworks. In fact, there are more fires on the 4th of July than any other day of the year and more than half of these are caused by fireworks. Because San Diego is so prone to massive and dangerous wildfires, the county has elected to limit the use of all pyrotechnics and explosives to those licensed to safely use them.
What are the Penalties?
If you’re still thinking about heading to Imperial County, Orange County or Mexico to pick up some M-80s, roman candles, chrysanthemums, spinners, artillery shells, bees or TNT poppers, you might want to think again because possessing any of these can result in misdemeanor charges in San Diego. If you are arrested, all of your fireworks will be seized and you will usually face up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines (or more fines for a subsequent conviction).
California state law divides fireworks into two categories: “safe and sane” and dangerous. The first category includes smaller consumer fireworks such as small sprinklers, fountains, spinners, sparklers, firecrackers, bottle rockets and snap caps and can easily be found available for sale at roadside stands in counties where they are legal. Dangerous pyrotechnics, including M-80s and just about any launchable design, are illegal statewide.
While possessing any of these devices in San Diego County can result in misdemeanor charges, if you are in possession of more than 100 pounds of dangerous fireworks and do not have a valid license for them, the charge may be filed as a felony, punishable by fines of up to $10,000 and up to three years in jail. While these charges are rare, if you have been caught with more than 5,000 pounds, you can face up to three years in jail and a fine of up to $50,000. It’s also worth noting that commercial drivers carrying more than 10,000 pounds of illegal fireworks can also lose their commercial driver’s license for three years.
If your use of fireworks resulted in a fire, you could also be charged with reckless burning, a type of arson crime that involves unintentionally, but recklessly starting a fire. Anyone charged with reckless burning will be required to pay restitution for any property damaged by the fire and most offenders will face misdemeanor charges punishable up to six months in jail. If the fire affected forestland or a structure though, or if someone suffered great bodily injury as a result of the incident though, the crime can be charged as a more serious misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a felony punishable by up to six years in prison.
Selling Fireworks to a Minor
Selling or giving fireworks to a minor is illegal statewide and charged as a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If you have a previous conviction on your record though, you can face an extra $5,000 in fines and another year of jail time. It’s also important to know that you can face a charge for each day that you violate the law.
Where to View Fireworks in San Diego
The coronavirus has resulted in the cancellation of many 4th of July events, which has spurred many people to purchase their own fireworks. But rather than break the law, it’s best to find a safe location that is compatible with social distancing to view one of the fireworks shows that is still proceeding this year. There will be displays launched in Santee, El Cajon, Poway and Vista and more cities have yet to confirm whether or not their Independence Day celebrations will be cancelled.
If the police ask to search your property for the fireworks or want to question you, do not give permission. Instead, invoke your right to remain silent and ask to speak with an attorney. If you have any questions or have been charged with this crime, please call San Diego fireworks possession lawyer Peter M. Liss at (858) 486-3024 or (760) 643-4050.
Image by Alexander Kagan