The mere possession of a gun is not normally a crime, assuming the owner meets State requirements for registration and observes other regulations. However, the potential for criminal charges does become an issue if another person is accidentally shot and killed. Anytime criminal charges are a possibility, a criminal defense attorney should be contacted as soon as possible to ensure the gun owner’s rights are protected. While it may seem that if the shooting was unintended, no criminal charges should follow, the reality is not that simple. California is known for its harsh gun laws, and even if the gun discharged but no one was injured, criminal charges are still possible. An overview of the criminal charges someone could face for the accidental discharge or death of another by a gun, as well as defenses to these offenses, will follow below.
Accidental Shooting and Injury
If someone is unintentionally killed through an accidental shooting, California criminal law says that he/she could be charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is applicable to unintentional killings that come about through:
- Committing a felony crime that is not considered inherently dangerous; or
- Committing a lawful act that could result in death if appropriate caution is not used.
The death of an individual following an accidental shooting would most likely fall under the second circumstance noted above. For example, assume a person wants to celebrate the Fourth of July by waving a gun around at a neighborhood barbeque, and honestly believes the gun was unloaded. If the gun fires and kills someone, a State prosecutor could look to involuntary manslaughter as a possible charge for the accidental death. Involuntary manslaughter is a felony and brings a sentence of two to four years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Given the seriousness of this charge, asserting all possible legal defenses is critical. Some options available to a criminal defense attorney include:
- Self-defense or defense of others;
- The killing was an accident that was not result of criminal activity or reckless conduct;
- Insufficient evidence exists to prove guilt; or
- The charges are based on false accusations.
Discharge of a Weapon
Under a different scenario, one in which a gun owner decides to intentionally fire a gun but no one is injured or killed, criminal charges are still possible as the negligent discharge of a firearm. California criminalizes intentionally discharging a gun, including BB guns, in a reckless (negligent) manner that could result in the injury or death of another person. One issue that could prove difficult for the prosecution is showing the accused was “grossly negligent” in his/her use of the firearm. This element requires the prosecution to show the defendant did something beyond using bad judgment or regular carelessness. Instead, the State must prove the defendant acted recklessly, and an ordinary person would have recognized the inherent risk with such an act. This charge is a wobbler offense and can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. Thus, while it may seem minor, the potential penalties are not. Misdemeanor convictions can bring up to a year in jail, and felony convictions can result in jail sentences of 16 months or two to three years. A few legal defenses that would apply in this situation include:
- The accused believed the gun was unloaded; or
- An actual danger of death or injury existed.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Both charges pose serious consequences for those convicted, but there are many nuances to the law that complicate the cut-and-dry argument the State often makes in favor of conviction. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know how to poke holes in the prosecution’s case and reduce the likelihood of conviction. Los Angeles’ Manshoory Law Group, APC can offer you the detailed and aggressive approach you need to get the best possible result. Attorneys are available 24/7. Contact us today for a free consultation.