A Molotov cocktail is a generic name for a bottle-based improvised incendiary weapon that is designed to be thrown for an explosion on impact. It is relatively easy to produce and can be created from materials found around the home. As a result, it is a favorite weapon of rioters, guerilla fighters and terrorists. In its simplest form, it is a breakable glass bottle filled with a flammable substance like gasoline or alcohol and contains an ignition source such as a burning cloth stuffed into the bottleneck like a wick. When the bottle shatters, the fuel is ignited by the wick to create a large fireball that spreads flames in all directions. Thickening agents such as motor oil, tar, petroleum jelly or rubber cement can be added to make the liquid more adhesive so it sticks and burns like napalm. Sometimes, other toxic substances like bleach, chlorine and pesticides are added to make the Molotov cocktail into a chemical weapon. If made properly, Molotov cocktails are very destructive and possibly lethal.
Due to the inherent dangers involved, Michigan law criminalizes the mere possession of a Molotov cocktail or a similar explosive:
- A person shall not “manufacture, buy, sell, furnish, or possess a Molotov cocktail or any similar device.” MCL 750.211a(1)(a). “Molotov cocktail” means “an improvised incendiary device that is constructed from a bottle or other container filled with a flammable or combustible material or substance and that has a wick, fuse, or other device designed or intended to ignite the contents of the device when it is thrown or placed near a target.” MCL 750.211a(3). A person who violates this law is guilty of a felony punishable by a fine up to $2,000.00, or up to 4 years in state prison, or both. MCL 750.211a(2)(a).
- A person shall not “[m]anufacture, buy, sell, furnish, or possess any device that is designed to explode or that will explode upon impact or with the application of heat or a flame or that is highly incendiary, with the intent to frighten, terrorize, intimidate, threaten, harass, injure, or kill any person, or with the intent to damage or destroy any real or personal property without the permission of the property owner or, if the property is public property, without the permission of the governmental agency having authority over that property.” MCL 750.211a(1)(b). A person who violates this law is guilty of a felony punishable by a fine up to $10,000.00, or up to 15 years in state prison, or both. MCL 750.211a(2)(b).
If a person actually uses a Molotov cocktail or other incendiary device designed to explode with the application of heat or flame, the criminal penalties become even more severe:
- “If the violation damages the property of another person, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 20 years or a fine of not more than $15,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.211a(2)(c).
- “If the violation causes physical injury to another individual, other than serious impairment of a body function, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 25 years or a fine of not more than $20,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.211a(2)(d).
- “If the violation causes serious impairment of a body function to another individual, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for life or any term of years or a fine of not more than $25,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.211a(2)(e).
- “If the violation causes the death of another individual, the person is guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned for life without eligibility for parole and may be fined not more than $40,000.00, or both.” MCL 750.211a(2)(f).
In People v Dorris, 95 Mich App 760; 291 NW2d 196 (1980), the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld a conviction where the defendant possessed five Molotov cocktails, even when a defense expert testified that they were not technically Molotov cocktails due to a lack of sulfuric acid and other chemicals. Specifically, the defendant believed his conviction should have been thrown out because the prosecutor could not prove that the Molotov cocktails would have exploded. The Court of Appeals rejected this premise, finding that the prosecution did not have to prove that the containers were actually Molotov cocktails or that they would explode, as long as there was a showing that the device was “highly incendiary”. Id at 764. In addition, the statute does not require the prosecutor to prove that the defendant possessed these items with an unlawful intent. “The statute specifically provides that possession of a prohibited device under this section is prima facie evidence of the possessor’s intent to use the device unlawfully.” Id at 765.
- “Explosive and incendiary devices generally have no legal purpose, except for use by military personnel. It is more likely than not that one in possession of the type of device referred to in the statute possessed the article with unlawful intent. Therefore, presuming intent from possession in the case at var would be neither unreasonable nor unconstitutional.” Id at 765-766.
Possessing a Molotov cocktail or another similar incendiary device is a serious offense that can lead to fines, a lengthy probation, or even time in state prison. You need a skilled criminal defense lawyer in your corner to aggressively protect your rights and hold the prosecutor to the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Even if the evidence against you is strong, it is possible that the case can be resolved with a plea bargain to a lesser offense, possibly a misdemeanor. If the offender is under 24 years old, then it is possible that the court can grant Holmes Youthful Trainee Act (“HYTA”) status where the youth can avoid a criminal conviction by completing a period of probation and following the rules.
If you or a loved one is charged with any crime and need legal representation, then do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC for assistance today.