Penal Code 247b PC - Shooting at an Unoccupied Vehicle or Building
Considering the inherent dangers to life and property involved in discharging firearms, the State of California has strict rules regarding their use.
It is a crime, for example, for anyone to shoot a firearm at a building or vehicle in California—even if that vehicle or building is unoccupied. This law is embodied in Penal Code 247b PC. You could face up to 3 years in prison if convicted of this crime.
PC 247b says, “anyone who discharges a firearm at an unoccupied motor vehicle or an uninhabited building or dwelling house is guilty of an offense that is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year in a county or state prison. This subdivision does not apply to shooting at an abandoned vehicle, unoccupied vehicle, uninhabited building, or dwelling house with the owner's permission.”
Put simply; this statute makes it a crime for someone to shoot a firearm at an unoccupied motor vehicle, an uninhabited building, an uninhabited dwelling, which is a house, apartment, or mobile home, etc.
Penal Code 247b PC is closely related to Penal Code 246 PC shooting at an inhabited dwelling or occupied vehicle. Inhabited refers to somebody living there, whether or not they are present when the shot is fired. Occupied means someone is inside. Let's review this state law further below.
What the Law Says
According to PC 247b, "any person who discharges a firearm at an unoccupied motor vehicle or an uninhabited building or dwelling house is guilty of a public offense punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or in the state prison."
For purposes of the law, a "firearm" refers to a handgun, pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, or any other device that can be used to shoot a projectile via explosion or combustion.
The term "building" refers to any permanent structure used for any purpose.
The term "dwelling house" refers to any structure commonly used as a home—for example, a house, apartment, houseboat, or mobile home.
It's important to note that an "uninhabited dwelling house" doesn't simply mean no one is home; it means no one lives there.
PC 247b allows for one specific exception. If you shoot at an abandoned or unoccupied vehicle, building, or dwelling house with the owner's express permission, you are not guilty of a crime.
If someone is currently making a home in that dwelling by storing their things and sleeping there, shooting at that dwelling is charged under the related crime of shooting at an occupied dwelling defined under Penal Code 246 PC, even if no one is home at the time.
The related PC 246 says, “Anybody who maliciously and willfully discharges a firearm at an inhabited dwelling house, occupied building, motor vehicle, aircraft, house car defined under Vehicle Code 362 VC, inhabited camper defined under Vehicle Code 243 VC, is guilty of a felony punishable by up to seven years in state prison, or not less than six months in county jail.”
What Are Some Examples?
EXAMPLE 1: Tom owns a pistol and decides to try it out on an old abandoned car at the end of his street. Tom can be charged with a crime under PC 247b.
EXAMPLE 2: To warn a rival gang to stay off their "turf," gang members Raphael and George fire several rounds into a vacant home. Raphael and George may be charged with shooting an unoccupied dwelling house.
EXAMPLE 3: David has an old junk car on his property that he's about to sell for parts. Before he gets rid of it, he and his friends Rusty and Dan decide to use it for target practice. David, Rusty, and Dan are not guilty under PC 247b because they fired at the unoccupied vehicle with permission from the owner (David).
What Are the Related Offenses?
- Penal Code 246 PC - Shooting at an occupied dwelling or vehicle;
- Penal Code 417 PC - Brandishing a firearm;
- Penal Code 246.3 PC - Discharging a firearm with gross negligence;
- Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC - Assault with a deadly weapon;
- Penal Code 245(a)(2) PC - Assault with a firearm;
- Penal Code 26100 PC - Drive-by shooting;
- Penal Code 25850 PC - Carrying a loaded firearm;
- Penal Code 29800 PC - Felon in possession of a firearm;
- Penal Code 30600 PC - Possession of an assault weapon.
What Are the Penalties for PC 247b?
PC 247b is a "wobbler" offense, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Depending on the facts of your case and your criminal history, a prosecutor could charge you with either one.
- If convicted of misdemeanor PC 247b, you may face up to 1 year in county jail;
- If convicted of felony PC 247b, you may be sentenced to up to 3 years in prison.
What Are the Legal Defenses?
Being charged under PC 247b doesn't mean a conviction is inevitable. There are several defense strategies an experienced defense attorney may use to counter the charges and possibly even get the case dismissed. The most common defenses are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you had permission from the owner. PC 247b makes a specific exception that it is not a crime to fire at an unoccupied building or vehicle as long as you have permission from the owner of that building or vehicle.
The best way to make this defense succeed is to get a sworn statement or testimony from the owner that you had permission to fire at it.
Perhaps we can argue that you discharged the weapon by accident. For prosecutors to get a conviction, they must show that you willfully and maliciously discharged the firearm.
If you can show that the discharge was accidental, you may be able to beat the charge. For example, perhaps you aimed at a vehicle or building, thinking the safety was on; but it wasn't, and you accidentally fired it.
If you are charged with violating Penal Code 247(b), you can contact our California criminal defense lawyers to review the case details and legal options. Perhaps we can negotiate with the prosecutor pre-filing to avoid the formal filing of criminal charges.
Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA. You can contact us via phone or fill out the contact form.