PC 588a: Throwing Objects at Moving Vehicles: Law, Punishment & Defense

Updated: May 23, 2021

In California, it is illegal to throw an object or substance at a moving vehicle without valid consent or legal justification. It is also illegal to place something on a public road or highway that is likely to be stuck by a vehicle.

To throw an object or substance at a moving vehicle, or to place something in the road that might be struck by a vehicle, may be charged as a criminal violation under California penal code section 588a. This article discusses the law, the punishment and the common defenses associated with PC 588a.

PC 588a Law

PC 588a: The law against throwing objects or substances at moving vehicle is found at California penal code section 588a. The law reads as follows: Any person who throws or deposits any oil, glass bottle, glass, nails, tacks, hoops, wire, cans, or any other substance likely to injure any person, animal or vehicle upon any public highway in the State of California shall be guilty of a misdemeanor;  provided, however, that any person who willfully deposits any such substance upon any public highway in the State of California with the intent to cause great bodily injury to other persons using the highway shall be guilty of a felony.

Note: When a person leaves an object in the road that might be struck by a vehicle then the crime of PC 588a is charged even if the defendant did not intend for a vehicle to strike the object in the road. The crime is complete if there is a likelihood that a vehicle might strike the object.

Also, in most PC 588a cases, the vehicle struck by the defendant’s object is a moving vehicle, but the victim’s vehicle does not actually have to be in motion for the law to apply. For example, if the defendant throws an object on the freeway, and the defendant knows that the object is likely to strike a vehicle on the freeway, then the defendant is not released from criminal liable simply because at the time the object struck the vehicle the victim’s vehicle was completely stopped in traffic.

Accidental Conduct not Sufficient: PC 588a is not charged where a person accidentally leaves an object in the road because there is no willfulness by the defendant in this circumstance. Of course, civil liability lawsuits for damages resulting from the defendant's negligent conduct in this situation could be filed by anyone harmed by defendant's conduct.

Willful Conduct Required: When a person willfully or purposefully leaves an object in the road that could be struck by another vehicle then PC 588a charges are appropriate. This is true even no vehicle actually strikes the object or substance that the defendant willfully or purposefully left in the road. This is also true even if the defendant truly, but unreasonably, believed that another vehicle would not likely strike the object left in the road.

Examples: If the defendant’s oil plug fails while the defendant is driving on the highway, and thereafter, the oil spills onto the roadway, then defendant must make efforts to warn others of the oil hazard or make reasonable steps to clean the oil (assuming the driver knows of the oil spill). If the driver fails to do so, then she may be charged with PC 588a. This is true even though the defendant did not purposefully deposit the oil on the road because a person who knows that they have created a road hazard has a duty to warn other drivers and/or make the condition safe.

Example II: If the defendant places road spikes in the road so as to keep vehicles from passing down a particular street then the defendant may be charged with PC 588a; this is true even no vehicle actually engages the road spikes.

Example III: If the defendant throws a cup of liquid at a vehicle as the vehicle passes the defendant on the road then the defendant may be charged with PC 588a. This is true even if the driver of the victim’s vehicle almost hit the angry defendant with her car.

Example: IV: If the defendant throws a large rock onto the freeway from a freeway overpass, then the defendant is likely to be charged with felony PC 588a. This is true even if there is not injury that is caused to another person by the defendant’s conduct. This is true because the circumstantial evidence of defendant’s conduct in this situation would suggest that she intended to cause injury by her criminal behavior. It is the intent to cause injury, not necessarily the presence of injury, which allows PC 588a to be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony crime.

Note: Intent to commit an act, such as the intent to cause bodily harm to another person, is often evidenced by the circumstances of the defendant's conduct (circumstantial evidence), as opposed to the defendant's admission.

PC 588a Punishment

Wobbler Crime: PC 588a may be charged as a felony or as a misdemeanor. When a crime is capable of being charged alternatively under two classifications it is called a wobbler crime. Felony PC 588a is generally charged where the district attorney believes the defendant’s conduct was intended to cause injury to another person. In some cases, the defendant might initially be charged with a felony PC 588a, but that felony classification is later reduced to a misdemeanor classification as part of a negotiated plea with the district attorney, or upon a motion (request) to the court by the defense attorney.

Felony PC 588a: When the crime of throwing an object at a moving vehicle is charged as a felony the defendant may face up to sixteen months, two years, or three years in the county jail. The actual amount of jail time that a defendant serves, if any, for felony convictions of PC 588a depends on many factors, including the defendant’s criminal history, the disposition of any plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, and the presence of any mitigating or aggravating sentencing factors in the facts of the case (i.e. actual injury to the victim, sophistication of the crime, etc.).

Misdemeanor PC 588a: When the crime of throwing an object at a moving vehicle is charged as a misdemeanor the defendant may face up to one hundred eighty days in the county jail. The actual amount of jail, if any, in misdemeanor convictions of PC 588a depends largely on the same factors used in felony PC 588a cases (see above).

Note: The same jail sentences apply whether or not the defendant is charged with throwing an object at a moving vehicle or whether she simply willfully leaves an object in the roadway, street, or highway (PC 588a).

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is period of supervision. This period of supervision carries condition called terms of probation. In turn, the terms of probation can include an actual jail sentence. This is confusing to most defendant’s facing PC 588a charges because there is a common misconception that probation means a person does not have to serve a jail or prison sentence. In practice, most probation sentences for PC 588a do not carry actual jail sentences, but rather, out of custody work release or house arrest conditions.

A probation sentence after a conviction for felony PC 588a is supervised by a felony probation officer; a probation sentence after a conviction for misdemeanor PC 588a is supervised by the court. Misdemeanor probation is also called court probation, summary probation, or informal probation.. The terms of probation are different in every case, but the most common terms for any PC 588a probation include restraining orders (stay away from the area where the crime occurred), criminal protective orders (stay away from the victim), pay fines, serve work release, stay out of trouble (commit no new misdemeanor or felony offense while on probation), and more.

Note: Probation sentences for PC 588a crimes are allowed; however, no probation sentence is guaranteed after a conviction for throwing an at moving vehicle or willfully places objects in the roadway. Whether or not a probation sentence is available in any PC 588a case depends largely on the facts of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, the terms of any negotiated plea bargain between the defendant and the district attorney, and more. Also, if the defendant fails to fulfill the conditions of her probation then she may be charged with violating probation.

PC 1170(h) Sentencing: PC 588a crimes are subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. In short, this means that any PC 588a incarceration is served in a local county jail, as opposed to a state prison. Additionally, PC 1170(h) sentencing allows the incarceration period to be split (served partially in jail and partially out of jail on work release), or suspended (not served unless the defendant fails a condition of her out of custody release). For more information, see PC 1170(h) Sentencing.

Note: in some PC 588a cases a diversion sentence might be possible. A diversion sentence is a sentence that is diverted away from criminal prosecution. Essentially, in a diverted PC 588a case, the defendant must perform probation-type conditions for a period of time. If the conditions are fulfilled then the defendant may have her criminal case dismissed and no conviction will be registered. Diversion sentences are not as common in PC 588a cases but they are allowed in some instances. For more information, see Diversion.

CIMT: The crime of throwing objects at moving vehicle, or placing objects in the roadway where vehicles may strike those objects, is not a criminal involving moral turpitude unless the defendant actually intended for the driver of another vehicle to be injured by the object (felony PC 588a). A crime involving moral turpitude is an inherently wrongful act, as opposed to an act that is merely proscribed by law. A crime involving moral turpitude carries collateral consequences related to immigration, professional licensing, character impeachment, and more. As stated, PC 588a may be classified as a CIMT in felony cases where the conviction is based on the defendant’s intend to cause injury to another person. For more information, see CIMT, Immigration consequences for criminal convictions, & professional licensing consequences for criminal convictions.

Strike Crimes: The crime of throwing objects at moving vehicles in not ordinarily a strike offense under California Three Strikes Sentencing Law. In fact, PC 588a is not classified as a serious or violent offense as those terms are defined under current California law. However, where the defendant intended to cause injury to another person when she threw an object a vehicle, and that victim was actually serious injured, then the PC 588a charge may be enhanced to a strike offense. This happens where the district attorney adds enhancement penalties to the underlying PC 588a charge, if any. See Penalty Enhancement, PC 667.5 (Violent crimes), PC 1192.7 (Serious crimes), and Three Strikes Law for more information.

Bail Issues: When the defendant is charged with PC 588a she will likely be placed in custody (jail). In some cases, especially where the defendant has no criminal history prior to the PC 588a charge, the defendant may bail out of custody. Bail is a surety bond that is deposited with court, usually through a bail agent, that is intended to secure the defendant’s presence in court. If the defendant does not attend court as promised after being released on bail then the defendant will likely have her bail forfeited (not returned) and the bail deposited with the court will be used to locate the defendant. In some PC 588a cases, the court will release the defendant on his or her own recognizance (no bail required). Either way, when the defendant bails out of custody or is otherwise released on her own recognizance, the defendant must attend court as ordered through the criminal process. In some misdemeanor PC 588a cases the defendant may appear at court through her lawyer as opposed to having to be personally present.

Note: Bail in San Bernardino County for felony PC 588a is $25,000 (2021); for misdemeanor PC 588a it is $5,000. For more information, see Bail.

More Penalties: In addition the punishments listed above, for any conviction of throwing an object or substance at a moving vehicle, the penalties can include: discharge or disqualification from the military (Space Force, Merchant Marines, etc.), loss of employment, civil lawsuits and restraining orders, loss of the right to own or possess firearms or ammunition, loss of insurance, mandatory anger management classes, violations of parole or probation issues, restitution to victims, and more. For more information, see Military & Criminal Convictions.

PC 588a Defenses

There are many defenses that might apply to a criminal charge of throwing object at moving vehicles. The defense that works best in any particular case should only be formulated by a criminal defense attorney after a review of the facts of that case. In any event, there are defenses that tend to be common to a particular type of case. In PC 588a cases those common defenses include: Consent, Alibi, statute of limitation, insufficient evidence to prove intend to injure, mistake of fact, intoxication, insanity, emergency (necessity), and more. For more information on defenses to crimes in general, see Defenses.

Note: In PC 588a cases, the defense of consent to another person's conduct is not valid where the defendant and the victim agree to engage in conduct that amounts to a breach of the peace or where the defendant's conduct creates a danger to a third person.

For more information on the crime of throwing objects at moving vehicle, or placing objects in the road, street, or highway, contact our criminal defense lawyers today. Our team of dedicated and experienced criminal defense lawyers has successfully handled hundreds of misdemeanor and felony charges. We offer services to all San Bernardino County cities, including Redlands, San Bernardino, Yucaipa, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Highland, and more. Consultations with our criminal defense lawyers is provided at no cost for first-time in-office consults and our office is open every day to assist you. Call today!


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