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Mayhem Laws in California - Penal Code 203 PC

Mayhem in California is defined under Penal Code 203 and 205 PC, which are closely related to assault and battery laws. Still, the main difference is the severity of injuries to the victim.

Mayhem is a severe crime in itself, but PC 205 aggravated mayhem even more severely. If you are charged under PC 203, the victim's injuries were disabling or disfiguring.

Mayhem Laws in California - Penal Code 203 PC

“Mayhem” is described as conduct that maliciously deprives somebody of a member of their body, such as disfigurement or making the body part useless.

“Aggravated mayhem” is defined as intentionally causing somebody permanent disability or depriving them of a limb, member, or organ.

The primary difference between PC 203 and PC 205 aggravated mayhem is intent. In other words, to charge the more severe PC 205, a prosecutor must prove that the perpetrator has a specific intent to disfigure or dismember the victim.

Violent attacks causing permanent disability or disfigurement are penalized more severely than traditional assault and battery-related offenses.

Criminal acts of "mayhem" sometimes involve removing somebody's body limb or causing permanent scarring. A conviction for mayhem carries up to eight years in prison. Aggravated mayhem carries life in prison. Our California criminal defense attorneys will look at these laws below.

What Is the Definition of Mayhem?

Mayhem is defined as an intentional malicious act causing someone a permanent disability or disfigurement:

  • “Any person who unlawfully and maliciously deprives somebody of a member of their body, or disfigures, disables, renders it useless, or cuts or disables their tongue, puts out their eye, or slits their nose, ear, or lip is guilty of mayhem.”

Some examples of specific acts of mayhem include the following:

  • Depriving another person of a body member (limb);
  • Permanently disabling or disfiguring someone's body part;
  • Cutting out their tongue or putting out their eye;
  • Slit someone's nose, ear, or lip.

As noted, there are two categories of mayhem in California:

  • Penal Code 203 PC mayhem is "maliciously and unlawfully" committing one of the acts above; and
  • Penal Code 205 PC aggravated mayhem is "intentionally" depriving someone of a body part or permanently disabling or disfiguring them.

To prove PC 203 mayhem, a prosecutor must prove you maliciously committed the act but did not have a specific intent to disfigure them. In other words, it was “malicious” but did not reach the level of the more severe form of mayhem that was “intentional.”

To prove a PC 205 aggravated mayhem, a prosecutor must prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that you had the specific intent to dismember or disfigure someone's body.

” Disables” under this law means the victim's injuries were severe enough to leave them with a disability considered more serious than a minor injury but does not have to be permanent.  “Disfiguring” injury is considered permanent even if doctors possibly repair it later.

What Are the Related Crimes?

Acts of mayhem frequently occur along with other crimes. This means you could face additional criminal charges, or you may be able to get the mayhem charges reduced to a lesser offense, such as:

  • Battery under Penal Code 242 PC is a willful act of violence or force on someone. If you attack somebody without causing injuries, then you could face charges of misdemeanor battery;
  • Aggravated battery under Penal Code 243d PC is any act of battery that results in serious bodily injury. This is a felony form of battery;
  • Assault with a deadly weapon under Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC is aggravated assault.  If you harm somebody with a deadly weapon, then you could be facing up to four years in prison;
  • Torture under Penal Code 206 PC is willfully causing somebody a severe bodily injury to inflict extreme pain.

What Are the Penalties If Convicted?

Penal Code 203 PC mayhem is a felony crime in California that carries a fine of up to $10,000, up to 8 years in prison, and formal felony probation.

Penalties for California Mayhem Conviction

If the victim is over 65, under 14, or developmentally or physically disabled, you could face a sentencing enhancement of 1-2 additional years in prison.

Penal Code 205 PC aggravated mayhem carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

Further, if convicted of mayhem, you could be subjected to California's "three-strike" law as it's considered a violent felony.

If you were already convicted of a qualifying felony and received a “strike,” your sentence will be doubled. If it's the third strike, you will be sentenced to 25 years to life.

If the victim dies, Penal Code 187 PC first-degree murder charges could be filed under the felony murder rule, which carries a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison.

What are the Best Legal Defenses for This Crime?

Mayhem charges are serious and carry severe penalties if you are convicted. Some common defense strategies could help you avoid the harshest penalties and get the charges reduced or dismissed.

Perhaps we can argue that you had no intention of causing permanent damage or disfigurement. Recall that the crime of mayhem is a willful, malicious act, and the prosecutor must be able to prove that you intended to cause the victim harm.

Legal Defenses for Penal Code 203 PC Mayhem Charges

Perhaps we can reasonably argue that the incident was a crime of passion or impulse where you had no direct intention of permanently harming the victim.

 Maybe we can argue that you did not cause the victim's disfigurement. Perhaps they were already partially disabled or disfigured, or the disfigurement was a freak accident.

Maybe we can argue that the victim has falsely accused you of committing the crime. Perhaps you acted in self-defense because you were being attacked and forced to defend yourself. Thus, the victim's disfigurement was incidental as a result.

A self-defense argument can be made if you had a reasonable belief that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering a bodily injury and believed force was necessary to protect yourself.

The Los Angeles-based criminal defense law firm of Cron, Israels & Stark can be reached for a free case evaluation by phone or using the contact form.

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