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Illegal Dumping and California Environmental Crimes

California, like many other states, has strict laws for the purpose of protecting the environment and the safety of citizens. California Penal Code section 374.3 makes dumping illegal on both public and private property. If convicted, you may face up to a $10,000 fine and up to six months in county jail. Because the act of illegal dumping is a wobbler, you may be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. For example, if you are a repeat offender, or if you are caught dumping extremely large quantities or particularly harmful materials, the prosecutor may use these facts to justify filing the charge(s) as felonies instead of misdemeanors. Further, prosecutors are able to charge both individuals and businesses with this offense. Individuals in executive or management positions may even be prosecuted absent actual knowledge of the illegal dumping. The prosecutor would simply have to prove that the individual should have known of the illegal dumping. The penalties for illegal dumping of commercial quantities of waste are significant. “Commercial quantities” is defined as “an amount of waste matter generated in the course of trade, business, profession, or occupation, or an amount equal to or in excess of one cubic yard.” The fines for this offense are as follows:

  • First Offense: $1,000 to $3,000
  • Second Offense: $3,000 to $6,000
  • Third Offense: $6,000 to $10,000

The types of materials disposed that may result in charges include rocks, concrete, asphalt, or dirt on a private highway or road, public park, or other public property. Because the penal code mentions private property, it may cause some confusion. It should be noted that the penal code does not function to restrict a private land owner from the use and enjoyment of his or her own property. However, if the dumping on your own property creates a public health and safety hazard, a public nuisance, or a fire hazard, then the state may pursue a conviction.

Further, fines under Penal Code section 374.3 increase after the first offense. The punishment for fines under this section is as follows:

  • First Offense: From $250 to $1,000
  • Second Offense: From $500 to $1,500
  • Third Offense: From $750 to $3,000

Of course, there will likely be additional court and attorney fees. Further, the court is free to require, as a condition of probation, that you remove or pay the cost for removal, any waste or matter which was dumped.

An experienced, skilled attorney will thoroughly review the potential defenses in your case. First, many people get confused regarding the differences between dumping and littering. In most states, the primary difference between littering and dumping is the amount of waste involved. The disposal of small amounts of garbage will usually be prosecuted as littering, whereas large amounts are more likely to be prosecuted as dumping. Items like refrigerators, tires, and mattresses will also likely fall under dumping. Another relevant factor is the type of waste being disposed. For example, hazardous wastes can potentially pose serious health risks, and will more than likely be considered dumping – even when disposed of in small volumes. Here are some of the most common defenses for charges of illegal dumping:

Don’t forget mitigation!

Many attorneys become so focused on the technical aspects of the law, that they forget to become acquainted with their clients adequately enough to learn of mitigating circumstances. Successful outcomes often begin with presenting mitigating circumstances to the prosecutor and/or the court. A good defense attorney will assist you in gathering character reference letters and other documents that will persuade the prosecutor from filing the charges as felonies. In fact, our office has been successful in persuading the prosecutor not to file charges, at all!

Arguments attacking the writing of the regulation

In rare cases, an experienced attorney can argue that the law is too vague to be valid. Especially if you are charged under a city or county regulation, a skilled attorney may successfully argue that the regulation was not written properly – which may result in dismissal of charges.

Relying on the government’s advice

In some cases, a defendant may have called sanitation services or other government bodies for advice regarding how to dispose of the material. A good defense attorney will explore the avenue of justifiable reliance as a defense in these cases. If the defendant follows a government representative’s advice with the belief that the advice was correct, the reliance on the government official may be a successful defense.

Does intent matter in illegal dumping cases?

Many states follow a strict liability approach when it comes to dumping. This means that the defendant’s intent is irrelevant, and the prosecutor must only demonstrate that the defendant illegally dumped the material. However, lack of intent may be used as mitigating evidence in some cases. A skilled attorney will successfully demonstrate that his client believed he intended to comply with applicable dumping laws. This will likely result in reduced charges and/or penalties in some cases.

While illegal dumping cases may sound cut and dry, you can see that these cases are easily complicated based on the facts of each case. It is critical to find an attorney who is experienced in this area of the law, and someone who will take the time to learn about you before going to court on the matter. Don’t get stuck with an attorney who is unwilling to fight simply because dumping laws are often based in strict liability. At Second Chances Law Group, we take the time to connect with each client, thoroughly explain each step of the case, and ensure that our clients receive the best outcome possible based on the circumstances. Don’t get stuck with firms who jump on plea deals and forget to include you in the process.

Contact our illegal dumping attorneyto get started on your free consultation today.