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PC 596 Unlawful Poisoning of Animals: Law, Sentence, & Defense. Criminal Defense Attorneys Explain CA Penal Code 596: Illegal Animal Poisoning.

Information on the crime of unlawful poisoning of animals is found at California penal code section 596. This summary deals with the law, punishment, and common defenses related to PC 596. For further information, please contact our California criminal defense attorneys.

PC 596 Law

Per PC 596, every person who, without the consent of an animal’s owners, willfully administers poison to an animal…, or exposes any poisonous substance, with the intent that the same shall be taken or swallowed by any such animal, is guilty of unlawful animal poisoning (PC 596 Abbrev.).

Note: It is illegal to place a poisonous substance, which is intended to poison animals, on the land of another person, without the landowner’s consent. This is true even if no animal is harmed by the poisonous substance (PC 596 Abbrev.). In this situation, the defendant may be charged with both unlawful poisoning of an animal, and trespass to land (PC 601).

Also, it is illegal to place animal poisoning on the defendant’s own land, if the defendant does not properly post signage that indicates animal poison has been placed on his land (PC 596 Abbrev.).

Example: David is tired of his neighbor’s chickens invading David’s land; therefore, David leaves a poisonous substance on his land for his neighbor’s chickens to consume. David does not post a sign regarding animal poisoning. Result: David may be charged with unlawful animal poisoning per PC 596.

Example II: David applies snake poison to Goliath’s property to help kill deadly snakes that come onto both David and Goliath’s property. David does not have Goliath’s consent to spread the snake poison on Goliath’s land. Result: David may be charged with unlawful animal poisoning (PC 596), and trespass to land (PC 601). This is true even if Goliath would have given David consent to apply the snake poison if David had asked, and it is true even no animal, such as Goliath’s dog, was harmed by David’s action.

Note: Where animal poison is used for the purpose of killing a neighbor’s non-land-invasive household pet, such as a neighbor’s dog or cat, and the neighbor’s dog or cat consumes the poison, the defendant may be charged with additional criminal charges, such animal cruelty (PC 597).

PC 596 Punishment

Misdemeanor Conviction: A conviction for penal code 596 will lead to a misdemeanor conviction. This may result in up to a six (6) month jail sentence for the defendant. A probation sentence, with or without some incarceration, or work release sentence, may be available in some situations.

Probation Sentence: A probation sentence is a period of supervision, as opposed to incarceration. A probation sentence is common after a conviction for unlawful poisoning of an animal (PC 596), so long as the defendant has no criminal history, there is no harm to an animal, and the defendant’s level of sophistication related his criminal conduct is not high.

Note: A probation sentence after a conviction for any misdemeanor offense, including a conviction for penal code 596, is never guaranteed. Also, in some situations, the defendant may serve a short incarceration period as a term, or “condition” of probation.

Probation Sentence Terms: A probation sentence after a PC 596 conviction will carry “terms” of probation. These probation terms will usually include restitution to any victim, remain free from new criminal charges (while on probation), pay a court fine and court fee, possible criminal protective orders, and more.

Additional Penalties: In addition to any jail or probation sentence that may result from the unlawful poisoning of an animal, the defendant may suffer possible immigration consequences, professional licensing consequences, military service benefit consequences, civil lawsuits (from animal owner) and more.

Defenses to PC 596

Common defenses to PC 596 charges include statute of limitations (1 year from date of alleged offense), coerced confession, illegal search and seizure, mistake of fact as to the poisonous nature of the substance laid, insufficient evidence to show who laid the poisonous substance, and more.

Statutory Defense: Per PC 596, if the defendant gives warning to any landowner and/or animal owner of the dangerous animal poisons that are on the defendant’s property, there might be a defense to any charge of unlawful animal poisoning. The statutory defense reads as follows:

…However, the provisions of [PC 596] shall not apply in the case of a person who exposes poisonous substances upon premises or property owned or controlled by him for the purpose of controlling or destroying predatory animals or livestock-killing dogs and if, prior to or during the placing out of such poisonous substances, he shall have posted upon the property conspicuous signs located at intervals of distance not greater than one-third of a mile apart, and in any case not less than three such signs having words with letters at least one inch high reading “Warning—Poisoned bait placed out on these premises,” which signs shall be kept in place until the poisonous substances have been removed. Whenever such signs have been conspicuously located upon the property or premises owned or controlled by him as hereinabove provided, such person shall not be charged with any civil liability to another party [if] any domestic animal belonging to such party becomes injured or killed by trespassing or partaking of the poisonous substance or substances so placed (PC 596 Abbrev. (bracketed section added for clarity of the law)).

Judicial Diversion: Judicial diversion is a type of legal procedure in criminal court whereby the defendant may be able to avoid criminal prosecution if he complies with probation-like terms before the entry of judgment. Judicial diversion, if successful, results in no criminal history as the defendant “divert,” or circumvents the criminal prosecution process. Judicial diversion is not a true defense in the sense that the defendant is acquitted, or the criminal charges are dismissed, but judicial diversion is great option for defendant charged with PC 596, if available, and where the facts of the PC 596 charges are heavily weighted against the defendant.

For more information on the crime of unlawful poisoning of animals, or California penal code 596, contact our California criminal defense attorneys for a free consultation. Our experienced defense lawyers handle all misdemeanor and felony charges in the Inland Empire.

Our criminal defense attorneys, including winning trial attorneys, have successfully handled crimes against animals, including PC 597 charges, in the cities and courts of Redlands, Yucaipa, San Bernardino, Riverside, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Fontana, Victorville, Rialto, Chino, Moreno Valley, Banning, & More. Call today!


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PC 596 Unlawful Animal Poisoning


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