Torture is often associated with rogue government practices or as terrorist conduct, but the act of torture is most often perpetrated outside any political context. Torture is an intentional act of causing “cruel or extreme pain and suffering for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or for any sadistic purpose” on another person and in that act inflicts great bodily injury on the victim. (Penal Code Section 206.)

The terms revenge, extortion, and persuasion are self-explanatory. But what about “sadistic purpose?” What if, for example, the perpetrator caused extreme pain and suffering on another because the perpetrator was angry at the victim for a perceived wrong. Is that a sadistic purpose? Yes. Sadistic purpose is defined by California law as an intent to inflict pain on another in order to experience please for oneself. (CALCRIM No. 810.) In this example, the causing of extreme pain and suffering out of anger is done to appease the perpetrator’s anger.

Example of torture: Elmer points his rifle at Bugs with the intent of forcing Bugs to hand over his carrots. Bugs won’t hand over the carrots, so Elmer starts shooting his gun in circles around Bugs’ feet. (Persuasion.) Bugs frantically hops to avoid the bullets. Elmer then shoots Bugs in the foot. Indeed, it would even be torture without the carrots in this cartoon scene. (A sadistic purpose.)

Elements of Torture

The crime of torture has two elements: The intent to cause pain and suffering for a specifically defined purpose (revenge, extortion, persuasion, or sadism) and an infliction of great bodily injury. Great bodily injury is an injury that is significant or substantial, but that does not mean the injury must require medical attention. Under California law, even abrasions, lacerations, swelling and/or bruising may be considered great bodily injury. Ultimately, whether an injury rises to the level of great bodily injury is a factual determination left to the trier of fact (judge or jury). It is important to note that the injury does not require that the victim suffered pain. Nor does the crime require that the perpetrator planned or premeditated the intent to cause pain or suffering.

You might wonder what distinguishes torture from aggravated assault or aggravated mayhem. The answer is intent and, in some cases, the injury. For example, torture may be committed without any visible injury such as intentionally starving someone for the purpose of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or sadism is torture.


Lack of intent. The primary hurdle in prosecuting torture is often proving intent. The prosecution must prove that the infliction of injury was intended to reach the objective of revenge, extortion, persuasion, or a sadistic purpose. (This would necessarily include the defense of self-defense.) Often the facts in evidence are ambiguous as to intent prompting the criminal defense attorney and prosecution to arrange a plea agreement to a less serious charge.


A conviction for the crime of torture carries very serious consequences. Torture is a straight felony and is punishable by a sentence of up to life imprisonment. It is considered a serious and violent felony under the statute in California (Penal Code Sections 1192.7 667.5) and will count as a strike under the three strikes law (Penal Code Section 667). It is imperative to have an experienced torture defense attorney as your advocate. A robust defense can make a huge difference in the outcome.

Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William Weinberg Can Help!

Orange County torture defense attorney William Weinberg treats every case as if it were his only case, because it is the ONLY case for his client. His goal to achieve the best possible outcome. He has years of proven success and experience defending those accused of torture and related crimes. Contact him to set up a confidential and free consultation. He may be reached at his Irvine office by calling (949) 474-8008 or by email at

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