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If my fireworks show gets out of hand, can I face criminal charges?

Posted by Steven McNicholl | Jul 03, 2019 | 0 Comments

The fourth of July is an American holiday that would not be complete without a sky filled with colorful explosions.  We all know the neighbor who stockpiles an arsenal of fireworks he intends to light off in the neighborhood causing car alarms to go off, the ground to shake, and everyone that has to go into work the next be unable to sleep for one second.  Or maybe you are that neighbor.  Most fireworks available for sale are not illegal under California's Penal Code, which does not mean they are not banned under local ordinances, and will not result in criminal charges.  Even still, here are some possible charges you could face if your fireworks get out of hand this Independence Day.  


California Penal Code 242 PC makes it illegal to willfully touch another person in an offensive manner without their permission.  You might be wondering how this could apply to fireworks?  The touching does not have to be a direct touching, in other words, the firework you accidentally send flying at your neighbor, hitting him in the shoulder, is considered touching within the meaning of the Penal Code.  Willfully only requires that you purposely lit the firework not that you intended or wanted the neighbor to be hurt.  PC 242 is a misdemeanor in California that could result in a fine of 2,000 and up to 6 months in county jail.  Before setting off fireworks, make sure the area is clear and keep a look out for pedestrians who might not realize what you are about to do.  

Reckless Burning

​  California Penal Code 452(d) PC can be charged if you caused property to be set fire to or be burned due to your carelessness or disregard for the risk your fireworks may cause to the neighborhood.  If that rocket you set off veers into a home or tree and causes a fire, you may be in trouble.   PC 452(d) may be applied even if you only set the tree on fire that later makes its way to another's property.  The maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in county jail.  To avoid this charge, you should only use fireworks that launch into the air if you are away from any structures to avoid the risk of causing a fire.  You should always have with you fire extinguishing equipment to prevent the spread of fires to property.   


​  California Penal Code 452(a) thru 452(c), unlike reckless burning, can be charged as either misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances and damage produced.  Unlawfully setting fire to any structure, forest, or inhabited dwelling can lead to extreme penalties in court.  If the fire you start results in great bodily injury than you are really in trouble.  This is likely the most extreme charge you could face for unintentionally causing damage for your fireworks.  If convicted you could be facing a sentence of 6 months to 6 years depending on whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony.  To avoid an arson charge, follow the same steps you would to avoid a reckless burning charge.  Keep fireworks away from forests and structures.  Always have with the proper equipment to avoid the spread of fires if they do occur.  You do not want to celebrate Independence Day the following year behind bars.  


  Are fireworks illegal to use and possess in California?  No with a few extreme exceptions.  It is only when safety and common sense is ignored that you are likely to be facing criminal charges.  Always be aware of your surroundings to ensure bystanders and structures are not at risk of your fireworks display. 
If your show does result in a catastrophe, you need to call the Law Offices of Steven McNicholl at (951) 405-0990 immediately in order to assess your case and determine what may result, if anything, by your actions. 

About the Author

Steven McNicholl

Steven McNicholl is a criminal defense attorney serving clients in Southern California.  He has the experience necessary to bring intensity and focus to every case ensuring you receive the dedication and vigorous defense you require in your case.


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