Assault by itself is a crime as stipulated in PEN 240 in the laws of California. An assault is defined as when a person unlawfully attempts to cause an injury to another. The person must equally have the ability to do so. Under PEN 217.1a, the law protects public officers from assault by members of the public due to the nature of their job. When a person assaults a public officer, it is often seen as an assault to the government. A public official is a representative of the government, and as such, the government protects them by imposing severe penalties for any person that assaults them. If charges of assaulting a public officer are leveled against you, you must hire a criminal attorney to defend you. At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we will defend you with the dedication to avoid these penalties.

Overview of Assault According to the Law

Generally, assault is defined in PEN 240 as when a person uses force or violence to inflict an injury on another person. This is the same definition when understanding assault on a public officer. For a person to be found guilty of assaulting a public officer or another person, the prosecution must prove various elements or facts of the offense. These elements include:

  • The defendant carried out a deed that naturally would result in the use of force against the public officer
  • That the defendant carried out the act willingly
  • When the defendant acted, he or she was aware that it would lead to an officer believing the act will result in the use of force against them
  • When the defendant acted, he or she could use or apply force against the public officer.

To understand these various elements, we discuss them further to understand their meaning based on this statute.

Application or Use of Force

Application or use of force is when a person touches another in an offensive or harmful way. Even when the touch was slight, as long as it was done in an offensive or rude manner, it is assault. Even when no injury resulted from the touch, the manner in which a person was touched is what constitutes an assault. Assault does not have to be done directly on the victim. Throwing something at a public officer or even spitting at them is an act of assault.

It is also essential to understand that even when you did not succeed in using force against the officer, as long as you acted in a manner that may have led in the use of force, it is assault.


When a person acts willfully, it is when they do something intentionally or purposely. The person need not have wanted to breach the law, harm, or have an advantage over another to act willfully.

Knowing the Act May Result in Use of Force

This is emphasizing that the defendant doesn’t need to have had the intention of applying force. However, for a charge against assault, the defendant only needs to have had knowledge that the act could lead to the use of force. For instance, a law enforcement officer comes to serve a warrant of arrest against Luke. Luke, on seeing the officer, takes out his shotgun and shoots in the air. The officer ran to his vehicle to take cover. Luke keeps shooting near the car, not intending to harm the officer but to intimidate him. Luke is aware that his actions can result in injuring the police officer even when they don’t. When this happens, Luke is charged with assaulting a public officer, according to PEN 217.1a.

Penalties for General Assault PEN 240

A charge of carrying out an assault is a misdemeanor offense in California. Penalties for this offense include:

  • The defendant is sentenced to summary or misdemeanor probation
  • Serving not more than six months in jail
  • Being charged a cash fine not exceeding $1,000.

PEN 217.1a Assaulting a Public Official

Assaulting a public official attracts severe penalties against the offender, according to PEN 217.1a. When compared to simple assault that is typically prosecuted as a misdemeanor, an assault on a public official can result in felony charges.

Various elements must be proven by the prosecution for a person to be convicted of this offense. These elements include:

  • Proving the defendant committed the crime
  • The defendant assaulted a public officer or a member of their immediate family
  • That the defendant acted in retaliation or to bar a public official from carrying out their duty.

For instance, an official of the city council may announce a public meeting that would enrage some citizens. If one of them feels aggrieved and goes to attack the city council employee with pepper spray and is stopped, he or she will still be charged with assault.

Who is a Public Official According to the Law

According to PEN 217.1a, a public officer is any person that works for the government, state, or public office. These are:

  • The head of state and his deputy or vice
  • A state governor
  • A local, federal or state justice, a former or current jury or judge
  • A referee, commissioner or any subordinate judicial officer
  • A director or secretary of a state or federal agency
  • An elected official or federal official
  • A member of the city council, sheriff, mayor, peace officer, police chief, or county supervisor
  • A former or active prosecutor
  • A previous or active public defender.

The above persons holding these positions and their immediate families are considered as public officials. There are other officers of the public that are more in direct contact with the people in the execution of their duties. Assault on these officers is also considered as an assault to a public officer and may lead to severe penalties. Some of these officers include:

  • Firefighters even when they respond to a fire emergency
  • Peace officers such as the police as well as other law enforcement officers
  • Lifeguards also as they try to rescue a person
  • Paramedics or Emergency Medical Technicians
  • Traffic officers especially when they try to arrest you for a traffic offense
  • Officers charged with controlling animals
  • Process servers
  • Code enforcement officers
  • A member of a search and rescue team
  • Nurse or doctor tasked to give medical care

If the victim of your assault belonged in any of the above groupings and you had knowledge of the same, you are likely to face county jail time not exceeding a year. This is in addition to a fine of $2,000.


Having a motive when assaulting a public official is one of the most crucial elements of the crime. A defendant can only be convicted of this crime if they performed the act as retaliation or as a hindrance for the public official not to carry out their duty.

This means that if a defendant assaulted a public officer, and the assault was not to do with their job, then the defendant is not guilty of the crime. However, you can be prosecuted for simple assault or assault by use of a deadly weapon.

For instance, the defendant was involved in a bar fight with another patron. Later he discovers the person was a judge. At the time of the act, the defendant was not aware the person was a judge; neither was the attack in line with their job. Because of these facts, the defendant cannot be found guilty of assaulting a public officer. However, charges of normal assault can be brought against him by the judge.

Penalties for Violating PEN 217.1a

Offenses on assaulting a public officer are prosecuted as wobbler offenses. The prosecutor, at their discretion, may decide to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor or felony offense. If one is found guilty on a misdemeanor charge, they are likely to face the following penalties:

  • Be sentenced to summary or misdemeanor probation
  • Serve a jail sentence of up to a year in county jail
  • Pay a cash fine not exceeding $1,000.

A felony conviction, however, has more severe penalties. These penalties include:

  • Being sentenced to formal or felony probation
  • Serving a county jail sentence of sixteen, twenty-four or thirty-six months according to the realignment program of California
  • Paying off a cash fine not exceeding $10,000 in addition to the jail sentence or either.

Legal Defenses

If you are charged with assaulting a public official or a loved one is, hiring a criminal defense lawyer is critical to fighting against the allegations. Your lawyer will come up with various legal defense strategies that will help with your case. Some of the common defense strategies include:

The defendant had no ability to cause injuries

An altercation between yourself and a public official may result in the using of harsh gestures or words. You may, at the same time, attempt to cause harm to them. However, if at the time you could not cause injuries to them, you cannot be found guilty of the offense.

 In case the alleged victim of the assault was larger, younger or stronger, this defense may be ideal in beating the charges leveled against you. In addition, the facts can also be used to request lesser charges, such as disturbing the peace according to PEN 415.

The Defendant Had no Intention of Preventing the Officer from Carrying out their Duty or has Retaliation as a Motive

As earlier discussed, one is found guilty of assaulting a public officer if they did so intending to stop them from carrying on with their duties or in retaliation. If the prosecution is not able to prove these facts, you may be prosecuted for simple assault but not that of a public official.


Most prosecutors and police officers believe their colleagues do no harm or wrong. Many defendants are charged with assaulting public officers when, in fact, they were defending themselves against aggressive and violent officers.

If a person reasonably believed they were at risk of sustaining injuries, and they responded to the potential threat with force, they can use this strategy in their defense. This strategy can also be used when:

  • The defendant was in defense of another person they believed was in danger of being inflicted with injuries by the officer or being unlawfully touched
  • The defendant believed to prevent possible injuries; there was a need to use force
  • The force the defendant used was reasonable to fight against the potential danger

For instance, you are stopped by a traffic officer; you may be ordered to get out of the car together with your wife. In the process, both your wife and yourself engage in a verbal altercation with the police officer. Suddenly, the officer starts poking and pushing your wife, and sensing danger, you come to defend her and push the officer back.

The defendant can, therefore, argue the officer tried to assault his wife, and in her defense, he used force against the officer to protect her from potential injuries.

You Did Not Act Willingly or Intentionally

If the defendant did not use force towards a public officer intentionally, he or she could not be guilty of assault. Sometimes, your actions may have been accidental or out of a misconception. The public officer may also misinterpret your actions and accuse you of assault. For instance, you are in a political rally, and people start pushing one another. In the process of getting away or finding balance, you hit against a police officer, causing them to fall and get injured. This act was an accident and in no way intended to harm the officer. If this were the case, you could not be found guilty of assaulting a public officer.

False Accusation

A public officer can also level false accusations against another person. Assault cases do not require the victim to suffer actual injuries. Because of this fact, a public officer that has a vendetta or a disagreement with a person can falsely accuse them of assault. With an experienced lawyer, you can be able to unmask the allegations by gathering the necessary evidence and witness statements. Your lawyer will be able to use various strategies to expose the truth and get you acquitted.

PEN 217.1a Assault and Related Offenses

Various offenses that relate to assaulting a public officer in California exist. These offenses can be charged alongside or instead of PEN 217.1a violations. These offenses include:

Pen 242 – Battery Resulting in Severe Bodily Injuries

Battery, as described in PEN 242, requires one to actually apply force against another person as opposed to the assault on a public officer where actual force need not be applied.

However, even when a person did not inflict physical injuries on another, they can still be found guilty of this offense. The law only requires a person to touch another in an offensive or harmful way successfully.

Battery is charged as a misdemeanor offense in California. If one is found guilty of this offense, they face a possible county jail time of not more than six months. In addition, the defendant will be required to pay a fine, not exceeding $2,000.

On the other hand, if the battery resulted in one inflicting severe bodily injuries on another, it is referred to as an aggravated battery. For instance, a police officer coming from a grocery store finds a person trying to break into a car. He confronts the person, but instead, the person uses force to grab the officer and in the process, dislocates his or her arm.

Aggravated battery can also happen among ordinary people. If in a football match, two people start arguing over the game. As a result, one hits the other breaking their nose. This is a case of aggravated assault that would result in felony charges.


A person charged with aggravated assault can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor offense. If convicted on misdemeanor charges, the punishment may include:

  • Serving a county jail sentence of not more than one year
  • Paying cash fine not exceeding 1,000

If convicted on felony charges, however, the penalties are more severe. Some of the penalties will include:

  • A possible county jail sentence of two or three or four years
  • Payment of a cash fine not in excess of $10,000

PEN 245(a)(1) Assault by Use of a Deadly Weapon

If a defendant is accused of assaulting another person or a public officer using a gun or a knife, or any other methods that may result in significant injuries, he or she is in violation of PEN 245(a)(1).

If you used a weapon to attack a public officer, you will not only face charges of assaulting a public officer but those of assault by the use of a deadly weapon as well.

This offense is a wobbler, meaning the prosecutor can either prosecute you on misdemeanor or felony charges.

The penalties for this offense depend on various things. These include:

  • The kind of instrument or weapon used in the assault
  • Whether the victim sustained injuries and their severity
  • Whether the alleged victim was a public officer like a police officer or any other protected person.


If convicted on misdemeanor charges, the maximum jail sentence a defendant would face is a county jail time of a year. A felony conviction, on the other hand, will attract more severe penalties. A defendant will face a state prison sentence of two or three or four years. If the assault was carried out using a firearm, the crime becomes violations of PEN 242a2.

PEN 415 Disturbing the Peace

This is an offense commonly used in a plea bargain for a defendant facing other assault charges as well as that of assaulting a public officer. A person commits this offense by:

  • Publically engaging another person in a physical or verbal altercation or even challenging them to fight
  • Maliciously and willfully disturbing others by use of unreasonably loud voice
  • Using provocative and offensive words publicly can lead to a violent reaction.
  • Uttering racial words against another person and repeating them even when they ask you to stop
  • Starting a fight in a bar, among others.


Depending on the circumstances of the offense, prosecutors are at a discretion to charge the offender with an infraction or a misdemeanor. A conviction on this offense will lead to the following maximum penalties:

  • A county jail time of not more than 90 days
  • A cash fine not in excess of $400
  • Serving jail time as well as paying the fine.

PEN 244 Assault by Use of Caustic Chemicals

This kind of assault is one of the most serious kinds in California. Violations of PEN 244 happen when a person throws or places flammable substances or caustic chemicals on another person. This is done to disfigure or injure them for one reason or another.

A person that feels aggrieved by a public officer may commit this offense against the officer. Alongside charges of assaulting a public official, the person can also be charged with assault by the use of caustic chemicals.


When a person is charged with PEN 244 violations, they will face felony charges. Some of the possible penalties a defendant will face include:

  • Serving a state prison sentence of between two and four years
  • Paying a cash fine of not more than $10,000

VC 23110 Throwing Objects at Other Motor Vehicles

An aggrieved person may intentionally throw something at the vehicle belonging to a public officer or any other person in an open road or street. Prosecutions against this violation is a misdemeanor. However, in case the object had the ability to cause serious injuries, and the defendant did it intentionally, felony charges can be brought against the defendant.

A misdemeanor conviction for this offense will include:

  • The defendant is sentenced to summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A county jail sentence of not more than six months
  • A cash fine of not more than $1,000

Find a Lawyer Near Me

Assaulting a public officer is a more severe offense than typical assault charges in California. The state must protect public officials in the execution of their duties. When you assault a public official, the state or government takes it as a personal offense against them. This calls for very harsh penalties if found guilty of the offense. It is essential to take these allegations with the seriousness they deserve and hire an experienced attorney to fight for you. At the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we have a team of experienced defense attorneys that can fight for you. Call us today at 714-740-7848, and let us help you overcome these allegations.