A public official has a critical duty when it comes to making decisions that benefit the general public. When performing their duties, they can make comments or decisions that some individuals won't appreciate. As a result, they often face threats and physical attacks. California law recognizes this type of threat to our public officials. Because of this, there are strict laws against assaulting a public officer.
If you're accused of an assault against a public officer and are not prepared to face severe penalties, it is wise to consider your defense. We at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney understand that you could have reacted in defense of a loved one or yourself. Or, you had no intention of obstructing the official from carrying out his or her public obligations. If you contact us, we may be able to assist you to persuade the court to reduce or dismiss the charges.
Overview of Assault Under Law
Assault is described under California PC 240 as using violence or force to inflict harm on another individual. This definition also applies when understanding an assault on a public officer. The prosecution should show various elements or circumstances of the offense for an individual to be found guilty of an assault against a public officer or any other person. These elements consist of the following:
- The defendant had the option to apply or use force when acting against the public official
- The accused perpetrated a crime that inevitably led to the application of force or violence against a public official
- The accused willingly perpetrated the offense
- The accused person knew when he or she took action that it would cause an officer to believe they or were going to use aggression against them
Let's look at these elements in further detail better to understand their meaning based on this legislation.
An individual acts deliberately when he or she engages in an action with purpose or with intent. Someone doesn't need to engage purposefully to break the law, cause injury, or gain an advantage over other individuals.
Use or Applying Force
When someone touches another individual in an offensive or harmful way, it’s considered as applying or using force. As long as the contact was rude or offensive, it counts as assault, regardless of how minor it was. Even if the contact did not cause harm, the way the individual was held is what counts as an assault. Assault can be committed in a variety of indirect ways. For example, throwing objects at a public officer, or spitting on them, is considered an assault.
It's also critical to note that an assault occurs even if the defendant was unsuccessful in using force against a public officer but still acted in a manner that would have done so.
Knowing the Action Could Lead to the Application of Force
The element emphasizes that the perpetrator does not need to have intended to use force. However, for an assault allegation, it is sufficient that a person knows the action could reasonably be expected to lead to the application of excessive force. For instance, police officers could arrive at a scene to issue a warrant of arrest against a perpetrator. When the accused sees the officer, she/he removes her/his firearm and fires into the air. The police officers dash to their vehicle for safety.
The defendant continues to fire near their automobile, not to harm the police officers but instead to scare them. The offender is conscious that her/his conduct has the possibility of causing harm or injuring law enforcement officers even if they do not. The defendant will then be charged under PEN 217.1a for committing an assault on a public official.
Penalties For General Assault
An assault crime is classified as a California misdemeanor crime. Punishments for this offense include:
- The offender receives a sentence of a misdemeanor or summary probation
- Serving a maximum of six months behind bars
- Paying a hefty fine in cash, not exceeding $1,000
Assaulting a Public Official (PEN 217.1a)
A violation of California PEN 217.1a carries serious consequences against the perpetrator. In contrast to a simple assault, normally punished as a misdemeanor crime, assault against a public officer can result in felony charges.
For someone to be convicted of this offense, the prosecutor needs to demonstrate a number of elements. The elements include the following:
- They should provide evidence that the accused committed the alleged offense
- The accused attacked a public officer or any member of their close family
- That the perpetrator engaged in retribution or hindered a public official from performing their duties.
For instance, a local city council official could publicly announce a meeting, which can infuriate some individuals. If a citizen gets enraged and tries to attack or assault a member of the city council using pepper spray, but is restrained, he or she would still be punished for assault.
Understanding a Public Officer Under California Law
Public officials are defined under PEN 217.1a as any employee of the federal, state, or local governments. They are as follows:
- The president
- The vice or deputy president
- A state governor
- A state, federal, or municipal justice, as well as a former or current judge or jury
- City council members, mayors, sheriffs, peace officers, county supervisors, or police chiefs
- Secretaries or directors of state or federal agencies
- A government employee or an elected official
- A referee, commissioner, or any subordinate judicial officer
- Active or former prosecutors
- Former or active public defenders
These individuals and their close families are considered under the law as public officers. Other public officers have direct interactions with citizens as part of their jobs. Assaulting one of these officers is also deemed to be assaulting a public officer, which carries harsh penalties.
These officials include:
- Firefighters, even when responding to fire emergencies
- Peace officials, including police and other members of the law enforcement
- EMTs (emergency medical technicians) or paramedics
- Traffic officers, especially when trying to apprehend a person for a traffic violation
- Animal control officers
- Process servers
- Code enforcement officers
- Members of the rescue and search unit
- A doctor or nurse tasked to provide medical treatment
If the victim falls under any of the following categories and you were aware of it, you could face a maximum of one year behind bars. There will also be a cash fine of $2,000.
One of the essential elements of the crime is having a reason for attacking the public official. The only way a perpetrator can be convicted of this crime is if they committed the act in retribution or to obstruct the public official from performing their duties.
This implies that an accused person cannot be found guilty of an offense if they attacked a public officer but it had nothing to do with their official duties. However, you can face charges of assault using a lethal weapon or assault.
For instance, the accused was part of a bar fight with another person. Later, the defendant realizes that the victim was a magistrate. The defendant did not know the victim was a judge at the time of the crime nor was the assault relevant to their position. These facts mean that the accused will not be found guilty of committing an assault on a public official. However, the magistrate has the authority to charge him/her with simple assault.
Penalties for PEN 217.1a Violations
Assault on a public official is classified as a wobbler crime. The prosecution has the option of charging the accused with either a felony crime or a misdemeanor crime.
The following consequences can be inflicted on someone who is charged with a misdemeanor:
- Get a misdemeanor probation sentence
- Serving time behind bars for no more than one year
- Pay a hefty fine of up to $1,000 in cash
However, the consequences of a felony conviction are more severe. Some of these punishments include the following:
- Serving a 16-, 24-, or 36-month prison sentence under the realignment program
- Felony probation sentence
- Paying a hefty cash fine not exceeding $10,000 supplementary to incarceration, or both
Defenses For an Assault Against a Public Officer
If you or someone you know is facing charges of assaulting a public officer, consulting a defense lawyer is important to fight these allegations. Your lawyer will prepare a number of legal defenses to support your case. Some common ways to defend yourself include:
The Accused Person Lacked the Ability To Inflict Harm
If you and a public official get into an argument, you can lash out with harsh words or gestures. You might simultaneously make an effort to harm them. Nonetheless, the accused cannot be charged and convicted of the crime if he or she was not able to harm them at that time.
If the alleged victim was larger, stronger, or younger, this legal defense could be great for fighting the charges levied against you. Nevertheless, the evidence can be used to seek a reduction in charges.
The Accused had No Intent of Hindering the Public Officials From Performing Their Duties, Nor Did Retaliation Serve as a Motivating Factor
If someone assaults a public official with the intent to prevent them from performing their responsibilities or out of retribution, they would be found guilty of the crime. If the prosecutor cannot establish these facts, you could still face charges for simple assault and not on a public officer.
The vast majority of police officers and prosecutors think their colleagues never violate the laws or do anything wrong. Often defendants are alleged of committing an assault against a government employee while they are protecting themselves against hostile and violent authorities.
When a client reasonably assumed that they were at risk of getting harmed and reacted to possible threats with physical force, they can use this strategy in their legal defense. This can also be used in these circumstances:
- The accused was protecting someone else they thought was in danger of getting hurt or unlawfully touched by the police officer
- The accused felt that force needed to be used to prevent potential injury
- The accused person's use or application of excessive force was appropriate given the nature of the threat
If you and your friend are stopped over by a police officer, for example, you could both be asked to exit the vehicle. While doing so, you or your friend gets into an argument with the officer. In an instant, the police start prodding and triggering your friend. Sensing danger, you stood up for your friend and pushed the officer away.
Therefore, the accused could contend that the public official attempted to assault their friend and that, in self-defense, they used force against the public officer to shield them from any harm.
You Did Not Act Knowingly or Purposefully
A defendant cannot be charged with assault if they did not intend to use force against a public official. There are situations when your conduct could have been unintentional or the result of a misunderstanding. The public official can interpret your conduct incorrectly and arrest you for assault.
Consider a campaign rally when people start shoving each other. While attempting to escape or find your footing, you accidentally knocked over a law enforcement officer and hurt them. This action was unintentional and had no malicious intent toward the officer in any manner. In that instance, you can not be held liable for assault against a public official.
Public officials can make false accusations against other individuals. There is no requirement that the alleged victim of the assault sustains physical harm. In light of this, public officers who have a grievance or resentment against an individual or disagree with them could claim that they assaulted them.
You can challenge the charges with the aid of an experienced attorney by compiling evidence and statements from witnesses. Your defense attorney can employ a number of tactics to demonstrate the facts and secure your exoneration.
In California, several charges are related to assaulting a public officer. These charges could be pursued in place of or in addition to California Penal Code 217.1a violations. Some of these charges are:
Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injuries (California Penal Code 242)
In contrast to assault against a public officer, where physical force is not required, battery, as defined under Penal Code 242, involves the use or application of force against the victim.
However, a defendant could still be convicted of this act even if they did not physically harm another person. The only requirement from the law is for a person to physically contact someone else in an unpleasant or harmful manner.
In California, a battery offense is considered a misdemeanor crime. A conviction for this misdemeanor carries a maximum sentence of six months in a county jail. Additionally, a fine not exceeding $2,000 will be imposed on the offender.
The term "aggravated battery" is used to describe a situation in which one party causes serious bodily harm to another while perpetrating a battery offense. A law enforcer returning from a store might encounter a person attempting to gain entry to an automobile. He or she confronts them, but they grip him/her or with such force that the police officer's arm is dislocated.
An individual accused of aggravated assault can also face charges for a felony or misdemeanor. If found guilty of misdemeanor crimes, the following sentences could be imposed:
- One-year maximum county jail term
- Maximum fines not exceeding $1,000
But, the consequences are more serious if you’re found guilty of felony crimes. Penalties could include:
- A two-, three-, or four-year county jail term
- Paying a monetary fine not exceeding $10,000
Penal Code Section 245(a)(i): Assault Using a Lethal Weapon
A person violates Penal Code 245(a)(i) if they are found guilty of assaulting a public officer or someone else with a firearm, knife, or another object with the capacity of causing great bodily harm.
If you assault a public officer with an object, you'll not only have to defend against accusations of attacking a public officer but also against assaulting the individual using a lethal weapon. This act is a wobbler crime, which means the prosecution has the option of charging you with a felony or a misdemeanor.
The consequences for this violation vary depending on several elements. Among these factors include:
- The type of object or weapon that was used in the attack
- Whether or not the victim was injured, and how serious those injuries were
- If the purported victim was a protected individual or a public officer, for example, a law enforcement officer.
The maximum term a defendant could receive in a county jail if found guilty of a misdemeanor is one year. But, there will be harsher consequences if you are convicted of a felony. A defendant could receive a two, three, or four-year state jail sentence. If the act was perpetrated with a firearm, the crime becomes an infringement of Penal Code 242(a)(ii).
Disturbance of Peace
A defendant who is facing multiple assault counts, including one for an assault against a public official, could be able to get their charges reduced by pleading guilty to this charge as part of a plea deal. This crime is committed by:
- Publically challenging someone to a fight, engaging them in a physical or verbal confrontation
- Intentionally and maliciously disturbing people by speaking in an overly loud voice
- Provocative and disrespectful language spoken in public resulted in a fierce backlash
- Using racist slurs against other individuals and persisting despite getting requests for you to quit doing so
- Getting into a brawl in a club
The prosecution has the option to prosecute the offender with an infraction or a misdemeanor depending on the specifics of the crime. Should you be found guilty of this offense, you can face these consequences:
- A 90-day maximum county jail sentence
- Serving time behind bars
- Maximum fines of up to $400
Penal Code 244: Assault using Caustic Chemicals
This type of assault is considered to be one of the more serious kinds of assault. It is a violation of Penal Code 244 to intentionally inflict harm on another human being by using a combustible or a caustic substance. All of this is committed with the intent to cause them physical harm, be it to cause disfigurement or injury.
This is an offense that can be committed against a public officer by anyone who has a grudge against them. The defendant could face accusations of assault on a public officer as well as assault using a caustic chemical.
A person who violates Penal Code 244 is likely to face felony charges. An accused could be subject to the following consequences, among others:
- Paying a maximum fine of $10,000
- Serving a 2- to 4-year sentence behind bars
Throwing Objects at Other Motor Vehicles (Vehicle Code 23110)
An agitated individual could purposefully throw something toward a public official's car or another individual on public highways or streets. This offense is prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, felony charges could be filed against the offender if they knowingly used an object that had the potential to inflict serious injury.
If you are found guilty of this offense, you will be subject to the following penalties:
- Misdemeanor or summary probationary sentence
- A maximum of six months in county jail
- A maximum fine of $1,000
Find a Chula Vista Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Assaulting public officers carries harsher penalties than regular assault charges. It is the responsibility of the state to safeguard its public officers as they take on their responsibilities. When a civilian physically attacks a state officer, it is seen as a crime against that official and the state.
If convicted, the offender should face severe consequences. It is crucial that defendants treat these charges seriously and retain an accomplished lawyer to defend them in court. Our team of skilled defense attorneys at Chula Vista Criminal Attorney is available to defend your rights. Call us today at 619-877-6894.