California Mayhem Laws Under Penal Code 203 PC

This Article Explains Mayhem Laws In California

Under California Penal Code section 203 pc, anyone who maliciously disfigures or disables another person’s body can be charged with mayhem.  Even if the disability ends up being temporary, it could be sufficient for a conviction under this offense if it results in a prolonged disability.

Moreover, even if the disfiguring injury may be repaired by medical procedures, it could be sufficient for a conviction under this offense.

Example Of Mayhem:

After capturing and tying up the victim, Larry bit through the victim’s lower lip.  The lip was subsequently reconstructed through plastic surgery, but for the purpose of this code section, the act was sufficient for a mayhem conviction.

Definition of Mayhem Under Penal Code Section 203 PC?

Every person who unlawfully and maliciously deprives a human being of a member of his body, or disables, disfigures, or renders it useless, or cuts or disables the tongue, or puts out an eye, or slits the nose, ear, or lip, is guilty of mayhem.


While raping the victim, James broke the victim’s ankle, which then took over six months to heal.  Although the victim’s ankle healed eventually, because the injury was prolonged, it would be considered a “disability” under the Penal Code section 203, which would result in a criminal conviction for mayhem and possibly a civil lawsuit for rape.

How Does The Prosecutor Prove Mayhem?

To prove that the defendant is guilty of mayhem under penal code 203 pc, the prosecution must prove the following facts or elements:1

  • The defendant caused serious bodily injury2 when he/she unlawfully and maliciously3
  • Removed a part of someone’s body; OR
  • Disabled or made useless a part of someone’s body and the disability was more than slight or temporary4; OR
  • Permanently disfigured someone5; OR
  • Cut or disabled someone’s tongue; OR
  • Slit someone’s nose, ear, or lip6; OR
  • Put out someone’s eye or injured someone’s eye in a way that so significantly reduced his/her ability to see that the eye was useless for the purpose of ordinary sight.

  • Putting out a person’s eye
  • Injuring a person’s eye in a way so as to significantly reduce a person’s ability to see
  • Slitting someone’s nose, ear, or lip
  • Cutting or disabling someone’s tongue

Legal Defenses For Mayhem

There are several defenses that your attorney can assert on your behalf to fight a charge of mayhem.  Here are the most common ones:

Self Defense

If a defendant caused mayhem to another person due to trying to defend oneself or another, he/she will not be charged with the offense.  To succeed on this defense, a defendant must show that his/her actions resulted from a reasonable use of force to resist a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm.

The degree of force used in self-defense or defense of others must be proportional to the threat perceived, and the threat perceived must be something that would place a reasonable person in fear of death or great bodily harm.  Mere words or insults do not suffice.


As Sam was running for his life from Rick who had just stabbed Sam in the leg, and was trying to pursue Rick to kill him, Sam started a lawn mower and directed it towards Rick.

The lawnmower ended up severing Rick’s leg.  In this case, although Sam intended to inflict the injury onto Rick, he did so to save his life.  Because the use of deadly force was justified in this instance, Sam is not going to be charged with mayhem.


If a defendant accidentally disfigures or disables another person without doing so maliciously, he/she cannot be charged with mayhem.

Penalties & Punishment For Mayhem?

Penalties for penal code 203 include:

FineUp to $10,000
ProbationFormal probation
Prison2, 4, or 8 years

Related Offenses

How We Can Help

We have significant experience defending clients charged under california penal code 203 pc and in consultation with our clients we come up with the most effective defense strategy for your case.

If you have a pending case which you would like to discuss contact the Aizman law firm at 818-351-9555 for a free consultation. 

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 


  1. Penal Code 203 []
  2. A serious bodily injury means a serious impairment of physical condition. Such an injury may include but is not limited to protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ/ a wound requiring extensive suturing and serious disfigurement.  A disfiguring injury may be permanent even if it can be repaired by medical procedures. []
  3. Someone acts maliciously when he or she intentionally does a wrongful act or when he or she acts with the unlawful intent to annoy or injure someone else. []
  4. Disabled. See, e.g., People v. Thomas (1979) 96 Cal.App.3d 507, 512 [158 Cal.Rptr. 120] [serious ankle injury lasting over six months], overruled on other grounds in People v. Kimble (1988) 44 Cal.3d 480, 498 [244 Cal.Rptr. 148, 749 P.2d 803] []
  5. Permanent Disfigurement. People v. Hill (1994) 23 Cal.App.4th 1566, 1571 [28 Cal.Rptr.2d 783]; Goodman v. Superior Court (1978) 84 Cal.App.3d 621, 624 [148 Cal.Rptr. 799]; see also People v. Newble (1981) 120 Cal.App.3d 444, 451 [174 Cal.Rptr. 637] [head is member of body for purposes of disfigurement]. []
  6. Slit Lip. People v. Caldwell (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 947, 952 [200 Cal.Rptr. 508] [defendant bit through victim’s lower lip]. []

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