Mayhem Laws in California - Penal Code 203 & 205 PC
The crime of mayhem is defined under California Penal Code 203 and 205 PC. While these crimes are related to assault and battery laws, the primary difference is the severity of a victim's injuries.
Mayhem is a serious offense, and PC 205 aggravated mayhem even more serious. PC 203 charges mean the injuries sustained by the victim were disabling or disfiguring. Mayhem is described as conduct that maliciously deprives someone of a member of their body, such as disfigurement or making it useless.
Under Penal Code 205 PC, aggravated mayhem is described as intentionally causing someone a permanent disability or depriving them of a limb, member, or organ. Thus, the main difference between PC 203 mayhem charges and PC 205 aggravated mayhem is that the prosecutor has to prove you had a specific intent to disfigure or dismember the victim.
In California, violent attacks that cause the victim permanent disability or disfigurement are punished more severely than other violent crimes like assault and battery.
Acts of "mayhem," as they are called, involve such actions as removing someone's limb or causing permanent scarring. If you're convicted of felony mayhem in California, you could face up to 8 years in prison; if convicted of aggravated mayhem, the sentence could be life in prison.
In this article, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will take a closer look at the laws below.
What Is Mayhem?
Mayhem is defined as an intentional malicious act that causes another person permanent disability or disfigurement:
- Anyone who unlawfully and maliciously deprives someone 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.
The law identifies the following actions specifically as acts of mayhem:
- Depriving someone of a "member" (e.g., limb or other body parts);
- Permanently disabling or disfiguring a person's body part;
- Cutting out their tongue;
- Putting out their eye; or
- Slitting their nose, ear, or lip.
As noted above, California recognizes two categories of mayhem:
- Mayhem (Penal Code 203 PC): "maliciously and unlawfully" committing one of the acts described above; and
- Aggravated Mayhem (Penal Code 205 PC): "intentionally" depriving another of a body part or permanently disabling or disfiguring them.
To prove PC 203 mayhem, the prosecutor only needs to show you maliciously committed the act but not have a specific intent to disfigure the victim. In other words, one act is “malicious,” while the more severe form of mayhem was “intentional.”
To prove a PC 205 aggravated mayhem, the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, you had specific intent to dismember or disfigure the victim's body.
The term “disables” means the victim's injuries were severe enough to leave them with a disability considered more than a minor injury but doesn't have to be permanent. A “disfiguring” injury can be regarded as permanent even if doctors possibly repair it later.
What Are Some Examples of Criminal Mayhem?
- A man attempts to rob a woman at knifepoint and stabs her in the eye when she resists, blinding her in the process;
- In a domestic violence dispute, a woman runs over her partner with her car, crushing her ankle beyond recognition. The ankle is permanently damaged, and the victim must use a walker from then on;
- A kidnapper seeking a ransom cuts off the thumb of his victim to prove his threats are not in vain;
- Two people are in a sharp disagreement, and one pushes the other face-first through a second-story window. The victim survives, but his cheek is crushed, and the glass sliced his nose, leaving his face permanently mangled and scarred;
- A woman enraged by her husband's adultery waits until he is asleep and cuts off his penis with a knife.
What Are the Legal Penalties If Convicted?
Mayhem (PC 203) is a felony in California, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, up to 8 years in prison, and formal felony probation if you are convicted. If the victim is over the age of 65, under the age of 14, or developmentally or physically disabled, you could face a sentencing enhancement of 1-2 additional years.
Aggravated mayhem (PC 205) is punished far more severely, carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.
In addition to these sentences, mayhem is subject to California's "three-strike" rule because they are considered violent felonies.
This means if you have already been convicted of a qualifying felony (one strike), your mayhem sentence will be doubled, and if it's your third strike, you are automatically sentenced to 25 years to life.
If the victim dies, then first-degree California Penal Code 187 murder charges could be filed under the felony murder rule. A murder conviction is punishable by 25 years to life in state prison.
What Are the Related Crimes?
Acts of mayhem often occur in tandem with other crimes, in which case you might face additional charges—or your attorney may be able to get the charges reduced to one of these related crimes:
- Battery - Penal Code 242 PC: any willful act of violence or force on another person. If you attack someone without seriously harming them, you could be charged with misdemeanor battery.
- Aggravated Battery - Penal Code 243d PC: an act of battery resulting in serious bodily injury—the felony version of the battery.
- Assault with a Deadly Weapon - Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC: also known as aggravated assault, attempting to harm someone with a deadly weapon may result in up to 4 years in prison.
- Torture - Penal Code 206 PC: willfully causing someone severe bodily injury for the purpose of inflicting extreme pain is known as torture. Often accompanies acts of mayhem.
What Are the Best Defense for Charges of Mayhem?
The charge of mayhem is severe, and the stakes are high—but some effective defenses may help you avert severe penalties. A good attorney may be able to make any of the following arguments in your defense.
You had no intention of causing permanent damage or disfigurement. Mayhem is a willful, malicious act, and the prosecution's most significant hurdle is proving that you intended to cause harm. Your attorney may be able to frame the event as a crime of passion or impulse in which you had no direct intention of permanently harming the victim.
You did not cause the victim's disfigurement. For example, perhaps the alleged victim was already disabled or disfigured, or maybe the disfigurement occurred due to a freak accident, and the person is using that detail to accuse you of a crime falsely.
You acted in self-defense. You were under attack and defending yourself—and the victim's disfigurement was incidental as a result.
This defense applies if you had a reasonable belief you or another person was in imminent danger of suffering a bodily injury and you believed force was necessary to protect yourself.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a Los Angeles criminal defense law firm that serves people across Southern California, including Orange County, Ventura County, San Bernardino, and Riverside. You can reach our office for an initial consultation by calling (877) 781-1570 or filling out our contact form.