Our client, age 38, lived in an area of Lennox near some railroad tracks where homeless people often camped out. He and his fiancé had purchased a condominium, attracted to the unit because of its affordable price, but did not realize that the nearby homeless people made life unpredictable and that their cars, if parked on the street, were often broken into.
One afternoon, on a weekday, our client was home and looked out his bedroom window, which overlooked the street below. He could see one homeless person, going from car to car, attempting to open car doors by pulling on the door handles of the cars. Our client could see the homeless person approaching his car on the street.
Our client therefore grabbed his 9-millimeter Beretta handgun, loaded it and ran down the stairs to confront the homeless man. The homeless man apparently saw our client exiting his condominium just as he found an unlocked car door (not our client’s car) and was opening it. Our client, angry that the homeless man was about to commit an auto burglary, pulled out his gun and discharged one round skyward. The homeless man quickly closed the door and ran back to the area of the railroad tracks. Our client, who had never even fired his gun before, quickly walked back into his condominium.
However, about an hour later, our client spotted a second homeless man, apparently drunk or high on something, stumbling down the street, obviously casing the parked cars and looking inside each one for something to possibly break into to steal.
Our client again grabbed his loaded 9-millimeter Beretta and walked out to the street area in front of his house. He approached the homeless person (a different person that the first homeless person) and asked him “what are you doing?” The homeless person could not see our client’s firearm, but suddenly, both he and our client heard a shot discharge. Quite luckily, our client was not shot from the sudden shot. Apparently, our client had accidentally pulled the trigger on his gun while it was still in his pocket.
In response, our client pulled the handgun out of his pocket and engaged the weapon’s safety. As he was doing so, looking down at the weapon, the homeless person lunged at our client and grabbed the weapon, pulling it away from our client and running down the street with the weapon.
Our client chased after the homeless man and a struggle for the weapon ensued on the hood of a parked car. Somehow, the homeless person grabbed a knife that our client also had in his pocket and our client immediately grabbed back at the knife, severely cutting his forearm on his own knife.
The shock of being cut did not settle in on our client and he continued struggling to regain his knife, which he did manage to pull away from the homeless person. However, the homeless person ran away with the gun and our client called the police.
Police came and found the homeless person about a block away. The police took away the gun and found a small amount of methamphetamine on the homeless person.
Our client was treated by paramedics at the scene for his cut forearm and taken to the emergency room.
When asked about what had happened, our client explained how he had first fired a warning shot about an hour earlier in the afternoon when there was another homeless person casing cars to burglarize and then how he accidentally discharged a round in the incident with the second homeless person, and how he cut his forearm.
As if to add insult to injury, the police arrested our client for violation of Penal Code § 246.3, negligent discharge of a firearm. He was taken to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station and then released the same day, quite confused about how this could happen when he was just trying to protect his property.
The client then called Greg Hill and had an in-person meeting about this situation. Greg and the client discussed what must be proven to convict someone under Penal Code § 246.3 and concluded the “warning shot” that he discharged earlier was the violation of 246.3, not the accident discharge of the gun in his pocket later. Greg then explained how it seemed the conduct was far more misdemeanor in nature than felony because, according to our client, he had no prior criminal history.
Greg recommended that the client take a gun safety course, which our client did immediately in downtown (Old Town) Torrance.
Greg then appeared at the arraignment and as expected, the case was filed as a misdemeanor, not a felony. The charge related to our client’s first warning shot that was intentionally shot, rather than the accidental discharge of the gun from his pocket. Greg showed the prosecutor that the client had already enrolled in and completed a firearm safety course and was extremely embarrassed about the whole incident, but he was just trying to deter the homeless man.
The Torrance prosecutor understood the situation, but also acknowledged our client’s proactive education with the firearm safety course. He agreed to resolve the case for just a $300 fine, plus penalties and assessments (total being about $1,300 or 36 hours of approved community service) and thirty-six months of informal probation. Our client also had to forfeit the firearm.
Our client was happy with the resolution, as he avoided any jail time and had the option of simply playing off the fine. His having taken the firearm safety course was time well spent.
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