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Case of Domestic Violence or Negligent Discharge of a Firearm (CA Penal Code 273.5 and 246.3)

Domestic violence charges (CA Penal Code 273.5) is a particularly chilling type of crime as it, by definition, involves people that are close to their victims.  But this was not the case for a 24-year-old man who seems to have accidentally caused the death of his girlfriend (in her late 20s) while celebrating on New Year’s Eve.  The couple was having a good time at an apartment complex on Callie Lane when the boyfriend evidently shot into the night sky from the nearby parking lot.  Unfortunately for all involved, the bullet found its way to the girlfriend and she later passed away.

Of course, for local law enforcement officials, there were several unanswered questions.  First of these was whether or not the shooting was an accident or intentional.  While no one, even representatives of the police, believe that the young man is guilty of having intentionally murdered his girlfriend, charges in the case have been altered from ‘negligent discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury’ to ‘involuntary manslaughter.’

California Penal Code 246.3 deals with the ‘negligent discharge of a firearm.’  The idea behind this law is that persons who act in a negligent and irresponsible manner when it comes to firearms should be somehow punished, especially if that negligence results in another person’s serious injury or death.  It is a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to the discretion of prosecutors in the case to determine whether they will treat it as a misdemeanor or as a felony (a misdemeanor conviction would mean 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine, whereas a felony conviction will likely result in a maximum of 3 years in county jail and a $10,000 fine).

Yet, how does this differ from ‘involuntary manslaughter’ (CA PC 192(b))?  This law provides for the possibility that a person could have caused another individual’s death completely unintentionally and without malice.  In other words, they were not acting in a negligent manner or behaving in such a way that a reasonable person would consider what they were doing to be dangerous or irresponsible.  This crime is, however, always treated as a felony and a conviction could mean up to 4 years in county jail and a $10,000 fine.

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