In the State of California, it's against the law to dump garbage and other types of waste in unauthorized places or an unauthorized manner. This law is codified in California Penal Code 374.3 PC.
Simply put, this statute defines the crime commonly known as illegal dumping. It prohibits the unauthorized disposal of garbage, waste, and other material on public or private property.
PC 374.3 says, “(a) It is unlawful to dump or cause to be dumped waste matter in or upon a public or private highway or road, including any portion of the right-of-way thereof, or in or upon private property into or upon which the public is admitted by easement or license, or upon private property without the consent of the owner, or in or upon a public park or other public property other than property designated or set aside for that purpose by the governing board or body having charge of that property.”
“(b) It is unlawful to place, deposit, or dump, or cause to be placed, deposited, or dumped, rocks, concrete, asphalt, or dirt in or upon a private highway or road, including any portion of the right-of-way of the private highway or road, or private property, without the consent of the owner or a contractor….”
If you're found guilty of violating this law, you could face significant fines that may add up daily until the waste is removed. You could even look at up to six months in jail for large amounts of waste matter. Let's review this law in more detail below.
What Constitutes Illegal Waste Dumping?
Under PC 374.3, it's illegal to dump "waste matter" in any of the following places or situations:
- On any public or private road or highway;
- On private property, unless you have the consent of the owner;
- On any private property with public access via easement or license; or
- In or on any public park or other public property not explicitly designated for waste.
What Is Considered Waste Matter?
California law broadly defines "waste matter" in Penal Code 374(b) as "discarded, used, or left-over substance," giving many examples that include, but are not limited to:
- Cigarettes or cigars, lighted or unlighted;
- A match or other "flaming or glowing material";
- "Any garbage, trash, refuse, paper, container, or packaging"';
- Construction material;
- A dead animal carcass;
- Nauseous or offensive matter (e.g., fecal matter); or
- Any other object likely to cause a traffic hazard or injury.
For purposes of this law, PC 374.3(b) also includes rocks, concrete, dirt, and asphalt among the objects that it is illegal to dump.
How Is Illegal Dumping Different from Littering?
While littering and illegal waste dumping involve discarding "waste matter" unlawfully, as described above, littering is a separate infraction from illegal dumping of waste under Penal Code 374.4 and is accompanied by a different fine.
The primary difference is the amount of waste matter; littering refers to the incidental throwing out small bits of waste matter, while illegal dumping typically refers to larger volumes of waste.
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Timothy is a contractor who just completed a small remodeling project. Not wanting to haul his construction scraps to the local dump, he drives his pickup to a nearby highway underpass and leaves the scraps there. As a result, Timothy can be charged with illegal waste dumping.
EXAMPLE 2: Jeri is smoking a cigarette on a park bench. Before leaving, she flicks the smoked cigarette butt onto the grass. While Jeri could be cited for littering (yes, flicking a cigarette is littering in California), she will probably not be cited for illegal waste dumping because it wasn't a large amount of waste.
What Are the Penalties for PC 374.3?
Under normal circumstances, violating PC 374.3 is an infraction rather than a misdemeanor accompanied by a fine. Fines are typically appropriated as follows:
- First offense: $250-$1000
- Second offense: $500-$1500
- Third offense: $750-$3000
These fines are subject to doubling if tires are included in the waste matter. Also, be advised that each day the waste matter that remains illegally dumped counts as a separate violation—so these fines can compound considerably if you leave the waste without cleaning it up.
Illegally Dumping in "Commercial Quantities"
If the amount of waste matter dumped exceeds one cubic yard and is "generated in the course of a trade, business, profession, or occupation," the violation escalates from an infraction to a misdemeanor offense.
This means the penalties increase, and you could have a criminal record if convicted. For example, the penalty for illegal dumping in commercial quantities is up to 6 months in jail, plus much higher fines, such as up to $3000 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for a third offense.
What Are the Defenses for PC 374.3?
Suppose you wish to challenge a charge of illegal waste dumping. In that case, a good California criminal defense attorney may be able to implement one of several strategies to combat the charges, depending on the circumstances of your case. These are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you had the owner's consent. Dumping on private property is only illegal if the owner doesn't consent. The main exception is if the private property has public access or easement, effectively making it the same as public property.
The charges may be dismissed if you show evidence that you had the owner's permission to dump there.
Perhaps you are guilty with an explanation. For example, you can show that you had a legitimate reason for dumping the waste, such as an emergency. In that case, you can make the defense of "guilty with an explanation," which may either get the charges dismissed or get the judge to invoke leniency.
If you were accused of violating Penal Code 374.3 PC illegal waste dumping, contact our law firm to review the details and legal options for the best possible outcome on the case.
You can contact us for an initial case review by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.