Penal Code 596 PC | Animal Poisoning

Penal Code 596 PC | Animal Poisoning

Penal Code 596 PC is the California law that makes it a crime to poison or otherwise harm or kill an animal. This law covers a wide range of conduct including intentionally poisoning pets, livestock, or wildlife. It also covers reckless acts like leaving out poison bait where animals can accidentally ingest it.

Poisoning an animal is a serious offense. Let’s take a closer look at the law and what it means for California residents.

The Law – Penal Code 596 PC

Penal Code 596 PC states that “every person who, without the consent of the owner, willfully administers poison to any animal, the property of another, or exposes any poisonous substance, with the intent that the same shall be taken or swallowed by any such animal, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”(1)

A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail,
  • A fine of up to $1,000, or
  • Both jail time and a fine.(2)

So in a nutshell, its against the law to poison someone else’s pet or farm animal. But the law goes further than that.

What Does Penal Code 596 PC Prohibit?

This statute prohibits three major categories of behavior:

  1. Intentionally poisoning an animal
  2. Recklessly or accidentally poisoning an animal
  3. Poisoning wildlife

Lets take a closer look at each one.

Intentionally Poisoning an Animal

It should be pretty obvious that its illegal to intentionally poison someone else’s pet or livestock. Poisoning includes administering or exposing an animal to:

  • Poison
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Hazardous substances
  • Any substance likely to kill or harm the animal

This means putting out poison bait, slipping poison into an animal’s food, releasing toxic fumes, or otherwise deliberately poisoning an animal would be prohibited.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the owner or have a grudge against the animal. Intentionally poisoning pets, livestock or any domesticated animal is a crime. And it comes with serious penalties…more on that below.

Reckless or Accidental Poisoning

Penal Code 596 also makes it illegal to recklessly poison an animal. This covers situations where someone’s careless or reckless behavior leads to an animal being poisoned.

For example, say a farmer leaves out pesticide that kills his neighbor’s cow. Or someone tosses poison bait to kill rodents and unintentionally poisons a dog.

These types of reckless or accidental poisoning would be prohibited under California law. It doesn’t matter if harming the animal wasn’t the intent. Failing to take proper precautions to prevent poisoning animals shows a reckless disregard for their safety.

Poisoning Wildlife

Penal Code 596 also makes it illegal to poison wild animals. This includes:

  • Deer
  • Birds
  • Rodents
  • Bear
  • Mountain lions
  • Any other wild animals

So its not just pets and livestock that are protected. Intentionally poisoning any wild animal on public or private land would be considered animal cruelty under California law.

The only exception is for legal hunting and pest control activities. For example, using poison bait to kill rodents damaging crops. But even then care must be taken to minimize harm to non-target animals.

Penalties for Violating Penal Code 596 PC

As mentioned above, poisoning an animal is a misdemeanor offense. Misdemeanors carry the following penalties:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • Both jail time and a fine

But thats just the maximum penalty. The actual punishment will vary based on the facts of the case. Factors like:

  • Intentional vs. accidental poisoning
  • Type of animal poisoned
  • Severity of harm to animal
  • Prior criminal record

Will all be considered. More severe cases involving intentional cruelty or harm to many animals will face harsher penalties.

Its also possible to face civil penalties like:

  • Paying the animal’s veterinary bills
  • Replacing the animal’s value
  • Pain and suffering damages

If the poisoning causes an animal to die, felony animal cruelty charges are also possible. This can lead to:

  • 16 months, 2 or 3 years in jail
  • A fine up to $20,000

The consequences for animal poisoning depend on the circumstances, but can be severe. Especially if the cruelty was intentional.

Legal Defenses

When accused of violating Penal Code 596 PC, possible legal defenses include:

  • Falsely accused – You didn’t actually poison any animal.
  • Accident – The animal was poisoned accidentally, not intentionally or recklessly.
  • Self-defense – Poisoning the attacking animal was necessary to prevent injury.
  • Consent – The animal’s owner consented to lawful poisoning like euthanasia or pest control.
  • No intent – You didn’t intend for the substance to poison or harm the animal.

An experienced California criminal defense lawyer can help argue these defenses and get charges reduced or dismissed.

Related Offenses

Related laws include:

  • Penal Code 597 PC – Animal cruelty involving physical harm like beating, mutilation, or killing.
  • Penal Code 598c PC – Failing to care for an injured animal.
  • Penal Code 599aa PC – Cruel confinement of farm animals.
  • Penal Code 597.1 PC – Sex acts with animals.

Poisoning is just one form of animal cruelty prohibited under California law.

Penal Code 596a PC – Animal Poisoning Defenses

Penal Code 596a PC provides defenses to animal poisoning charges. It states poisoning is lawful when:

  • The owner consents
  • To protect crops/property from pests
  • For scientific or medical research
  • To euthanize an incurably ill animal
  • To protect against dangerous animals
  • To protect public health

These limited exceptions allow animal poisoning only when truly necessary and humane.

Get Legal Help

Penal Code 596 PC makes it a crime to poison, intentionally or recklessly, someone else’s pet, livestock or wild animals. The penalties can include fines, jail time and civil damages.

Having an experienced California criminal defense attorney can make all the difference in an animal cruelty case. They can challenge the charges and work to get them reduced or dismissed.

To discuss your case in a free and confidential consultation, contact a local law office today.


  1. California Penal Code 596 PC
  2. California Penal Code 19 PC
  3. 596 PC – Poisoning Animals – California Penal Code
  4. CALCRIM No. 2900. Poisoning Animal–Misdemeanor