California has determined that it is unlawful to shoot at an occupied vehicle, or an inhabited dwelling. The state defines this crime as any person willfully and maliciously shooting at any: 

  • Inhabited dwellings;
  • Inhabited housecars;
  • Occupied aircrafts;
  • Occupied motor vehicles; and
  • Occupied buildings.

Shooting at an occupied vehicle is considered to be a serious automobile crime. Generally speaking, a serious auto crime carries a heavier sentence than a traffic violation would. Such crimes typically involve intent to cause injury, although vehicular manslaughter would be an exception. 

Serious auto crimes violations may be escalated to the level of a felony charge. An example of this would be if the violation involved repeat offenses, or if it resulted in death, great bodily injury, or serious property damage. Felony charges involve higher fines as well as possible sentencing in a state prison facility. 

An example of shooting at an occupied dwelling would be when the police enter into a dwelling and begin firing. Some of the shots go through the wall into the next home, where someone is present at the time of the shooting. 

Why Was I Still Charged with This Crime If the Vehicle or Building Wasn’t Occupied? Can I Be Charged with Any Other Crimes Connected with Shooting at an Inhabited Structure or Unoccupied Vehicle?

In legal terms, an inhabited structure refers to the place, and not whether it was occupied at the time of the shooting. California law considers a structure inhabited if it is currently used for the purpose of dwelling. Whether or not it had occupants at the time of the shooting is considered to be irrelevant in the state of California. Shooting at an inhabited dwelling is still considered to be a crime, even if no one was in the building (or vehicle) at the time.

A defendant can be charged with any other crimes connected with shooting at an inhabited structure or unoccupied vehicle. Some examples of such crimes could include, but may not be limited to: 

In California, it is generally considered to be a felony offense to fire a weapon at an occupied vehicle, or inhabited dwelling. Doing so may result in:

  • Probation;
  • Six months to one year spent in a county jail facility, or three to seven years to be spent in a federal prison facility; and/or
  • A criminal fine of up to $10,000. 

In addition to the above criminal charges, an individual who shoots at an inhabited/uninhabited building or occupied/unoccupied vehicle, may also be held civilly liable for the damage done to the property.

What Will a Prosecutor Have to Prove to Convict Me of This Crime?

The two bodies that can bring a criminal case against someone are the federal government, or a state government. Whether the accused is being charged in federal court or in a state court depends on which specific crime they are being charged with, as well as where the alleged offense occurred. 

Each state has their own set of criminal laws; however, there are certain Constitutional rights that apply to every defendant, no matter what that crime is or where it happened. These Constitutional rights include:

  • The Right to a Speedy Trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial, in order to prevent an accused person from being kept in jail for extended periods of time without adjudication;
  • The Right to a Jury: The Sixth Amendment also guarantees the right to a trial by jury. Many jurisdictions will allow the defendant to waive a jury in favor of a bench trial, in which guilt is determined by a judge. However, this is the defendant’s choice only. This right is universal with criminal prosecution only, as civil trials have their own rules regarding jury rights;
  • Miranda Rights: Miranda rights give the criminal defendant access to an attorney, whether or not they can afford one to aid in their defense. This is due to the assumption that the criminal defendant would not be as adept at defending themselves in a legal setting as an attorney would be; and
  • Protection Against Self-Incrimination: This right is also known as pleading the fifth. Protection against self-incrimination as a Constitutional protection determines that a defendant cannot be forced to testify against their own interest. 

The state will be responsible for proving that the defendant maliciously and willfully shot a firearm. Additionally, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant shot a firearm at an inhabited dwelling, or an occupied motor vehicle or aircraft. The term willfully is used to mean that the defendant did the act on purpose. A person is said to act maliciously when they intended to commit the wrongful act to result in the harm of another.

What Is the Punishment for Shooting an Inhabited Dwelling or Occupied Vehicle in California?

As previously mentioned, shooting an inhabited dwelling or occupied vehicle is considered to be a felony offense in California. Generally speaking, a felony can be defined as any criminal offense resulting in a prison sentence of one year or longer. Felonies tend to be crimes that involve an element of violence, and are considered to be harmful and/or dangerous to society. Felony crimes also include some of the most serious types of crimes that a person can commit, such as first-degree murder and arson.

Felony offenses are typically classified based on the seriousness of the crime. Each state has its own statute that provides separate guidelines regarding how to categorize a particular felony offense in that state. An example of this would be how some states may classify first-degree murder as either a Class A or Class 1 felony. Such levels are reserved for the most serious types of offenses, and are those crimes which can result in the maximum punishment.

The remaining classifications will continue on: Class B or Class 2, Class C or Class 3, and so on. Essentially, the most important thing to remember about the degrees is that they help to determine a convicted defendant’s sentence. It is also important to remember that the crimes lessen in severity the further away it is from the Class A or Class 1 level. As such, a defendant convicted of a Class E felony will receive a much lower sentence and has committed a less serious crime than a person whose crime falls under the Class A felony designation.

California specifically categorizes felonies by numerical class. Meaning, felonies are either Class 1, 2, 3, or 4. Class 1 is considered to be the most serious of felony crimes. 

Should I Talk to a Lawyer about Fighting This Charge?

If you are in California and are facing charges for shooting at an occupied vehicle, or inhabited dwelling, you should immediately consult with an area California criminal lawyer. A skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will review the facts of your case and determine what legal defenses may be available to you based on your specific circumstances. Additionally, an experienced and local criminal attorney will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.