Police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and other first responders are a protected group under California assault and battery laws. When someone knowingly commits assault or battery against one of these individuals, they can face additional penalties for these crimes under Penal Codes 241(c), 243(c), and 243(b) (PC). There are many ways to fight these charges, but the best approach should always be based on your unique circumstances. Because every case is different, always speak with an attorney before attempting to defend yourself against these serious allegations.
Protected Classes Under Assault and Battery Laws
While most people know they can face additional penalties for committing assault or battery on a police officer, a variety of first responders and other government officials are protected by these enhancements. You can face more serious charges if you threaten, attempt to harm, or physically harm a:
- Police Officer
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
- Process Server
- Traffic Officer
- Code Enforcement Officer
- Animal Control Officer
- Search and Rescue Member
- Physician or Nurse Rendering Emergency Medical Care Outside a Medical Facility
- Employee of the Probation Department
Whether you are charged with assault or battery, it does not matter whether the individual is on or off duty as long as they are engaged in the performance of their duties. One of the most important aspects of the charge is that the prosecution can prove that you knew or reasonably should have known the individual was one of the protected classes above.
In other words, if you assault a police officer who is off duty and getting drunk at a bar, you will not face enhanced charges because he was not engaged in his duties, even if you knew he was a police officer. Similarly, if you committed battery on an off-duty animal control officer attempting to trap a wild animal, you wouldn’t be guilty of the peace officer enhancement as long, as she didn’t tell you she was operating as an animal control officer.
Assault on a Peace Officer
Under Penal Code 241(c) (PC), it is against the law to threaten or attempt to use force against any individual that falls under one of the protected classes above as long as they are engaged in the performance of their duties. Under this law, simple assault on a peace officer is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year and $2,000 —this is twice the maximum penalty for simple assault against a typical individual.
Assault with a deadly weapon, filed under Penal Code 245 (PC), normally carries a maximum sentence of 4 years, but when it involves a peace officer as the victim, the maximum penalty is up to 5 years. If the weapon was a firearm, the penalty can be as high as 8 years, or even 12 years if the offense involved a machine gun.
Assault with a deadly weapon is considered a violent strike in California under the state’s three strikes law, meaning you will need to serve out 85% of your sentence before you become eligible for parole. Additionally, if you have a previous strike on your record, your sentence will automatically be doubled, and if you have two prior strikes, you can be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Battery on a Peace Officer
Whereas assault involves the threat or attempted use of force, battery involves the actual use of force against a victim. If the victim belongs to one of the special classes above, you can face criminal charges under California Penal Code 243(c) or 243(b) (PC). When the charges are filed under 243(b) (PC) because there are minimal injuries, they are a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year and a fine of $2,000, which is twice as high as a standard simple battery charge.
If the victim is injured, charges will be filed under 243(c) (PC), which is always a felony, punishable by up to 3 years in prison. As a violent felony, this offense is a strike, so those convicted must serve 85% of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Anyone with a previous strike will have their sentence doubled for this offense, and if they have two prior strikes on their record, a conviction will result in life imprisonment.
Resisting an Executive Officer
Many people charged with these offenses are also charged with resisting an executive officer under 69 (PC). While the penal codes covering assault and battery on a “peace officer” include firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders, those considered “executive officers” are public employees connected to the criminal court system, including:
- Police officers
- Sheriff deputies
- Members of the US Coast Guard
- Highway Patrol officers
- District Attorneys
- Public defenders
- Elected officials
Under 69 (PC), it is a crime to resist an executive officer or attempt to prevent them from performing their duties through the use of threat or violence. Notably, this law excludes those who legally record images, videos, or photographs of police officers.
Resisting an executive officer can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances. Cases that result in even minor injuries are typically filed as felonies. As a misdemeanor, this crime is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $10,000. As a felony, the charge is punishable by up to 3 years in prison.
While this offense is similar to resisting arrest (filed under 148(a) (PC)), it is a distinct crime. Unlike standard resisting arrest charges, this law covers all types of executive officers, not just law enforcement officials. This offense is considered a more serious crime as it involves using threats or force.
Similarly, this crime is distinct from assault or battery on a peace officer because it also involves resisting arrest or preventing the officer from performing their duties.
Assault and Battery on a Peace Officer Defenses
There are many ways to fight these charges, and the right defense for your situation will be based on your unique circumstances. In cases where it’s clear that assault or battery occurred, it may be best to argue that you were unaware that the individual was a peace officer, or that they were not actively performing their duties at the time of the incident. If the prosecution cannot prove that the individual was engaged in their duties or that you knew they were a protected class of workers, you cannot be convicted for assault or battery on a peace officer.
In other cases, you may be able to fight the charges entirely by arguing that you were acting in self-defense. In other situations, you may argue that you did not act willingly. For example, if you were dancing in a crowded club and accidentally elbowed a law enforcement officer in the nose, you cannot be charged with battery because you didn’t purposefully act.
Call a Criminal Defense Attorney Today
Assault and battery against a peace officer is a serious criminal offense that can leave you behind bars for lengthy periods of time. If you have been accused of this crime, a violent crimes attorney can help fight the allegations to ensure you get the best possible outcome for your situation. If you are accused of a crime, please contact defense lawyer Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.