What Does "Mayhem" Mean in SAN RAFAEL, California?

Mayhem as a term carries a relatively mild connotation in everyday conversation. But to the law, "mayhem" is a charge of serious weight and terrible consequences. If you're charged with mayhem, you must understand the legal battle ahead of you and the possible defenses you can use to avoid a conviction with the help of a California defense attorney.

What Does It Mean to Be Charged with Mayhem?

As with all crimes, the California Penal Code explicitly defines mayhem. According to Penal Code 203 PC, there are multiple possible proof thresholds for a mayhem conviction since the legal term covers a broad number of harmful actions. To be convicted of this charge, a defendant must be proven to have:

  • Removed (through force, machinery, weaponry, etc.) a part of another person's body OR
  • Disabled a part of another person's body, and that disabling has to be more than slight or temporary OR
  • Permanently disfigured another person OR
  • Cut or disabled another person's tongue OR
  • Slit the nose, ear, or lip of another person OR
  • Damaged or put out another person's eye such that the eye becomes blind or otherwise impossible to use for ordinary site purposes

Alongside all of these possible injuries, the defendant must also be proven to have acted willfully and maliciously – you cannot be charged with mayhem if the damage or injuries were caused because of an accident.

Furthermore, to the court, a disfigurement or injury can still count as “permanent” even if it may later be repaired or replaced through medical procedures.

Aggravated Mayhem

A defendant may also be charged with aggravated mayhem as defined by Penal Code 205 PC. This includes the intentional causing of disfigurement or disability of another person, or the deprivation of a limb, member, or organ.

The difference between the two lies in intent. With regular mayhem, the defendant may intend to cause harm or injury but not to the level that ends up occurring to the victim. With aggravated mayhem, the intent must be to maim or otherwise permanently injure the victim.

In either case, malicious intent must be proven. Malicious means, to the court, that the defendant acted cruelly or with the intent of causing harm or pain to another person.


Because mayhem is a crime that few people are aware of compared to more common charges like battery or assault, here are a few examples so you're aware of when it applies.

  • A gang member pulls a knife on someone on the street and ends up splitting the victim's ear.
  • A man attacks a woman with a very hot iron. As he pokes her, he leaves her with permanent scars.
  • A woman gets into a fight with her husband. She lunges at him and claws at his eyes, blinding one of them by accident. This still counts as mayhem because she intended to cause harm, even if she did not intend to blind her victim.

Potential Penalties You May Face if Convicted

Because mayhem is a felony according to California law, penalties are quite severe. Convictions under Penal Code 203 PC can lead to:

  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • 2/4/8 years in California state prison

Meanwhile, aggravated mayhem can lead to even more serious penalties, including a sentence for life in state prison with the possibility of parole.

Defenses Against Mayhem Charges

These crimes are quite serious and may be difficult to overturn. But there are several effective defenses that a defendant and his or her legal counsel can use to avoid the conviction.


Injuries categorized under the mayhem charge may not lead to a conviction if they were given out of self-defense. For instance, if a woman clawed at the eyes of a man attacking her and accidentally blinded him, she may not be convicted of mayhem since she was protecting herself.

A self-defense argument can also be raised if the defendant was protecting another person.

False Accusations

If the defendant was falsely accused, their defense counsel can use this to demonstrate that they were not responsible for the injuries obtained by the victim in the first place.

Lack of Malicious Intent

This last defense is difficult to raise at times, but all mayhem or aggravated mayhem charges rely on malicious intent for conviction. For instance, if the defendant only accidentally caused injury to the victim, they may not be charged with mayhem since they did not act out of intent to harm or maim. Consider this scenario: Two fishing buddies end a heated political discussion and agree to return to fishing. While casting, the fishing hook of one friend accidentally slits the nostril of the other. This is not mayhem, even though casting was intentional and even though the injury happened during an argument, because the casting of the fish hook was not done maliciously. 

Contact a Defense Attorney Today

Mayhem and aggravated mayhem charges are incredibly serious affairs, and you need the best defense possible to secure your freedom. Contact the Law Office of Peter James Chambers today and we'll set you up with a free consultation where you can discuss your case and available defense options.