Compared to simple assault and battery, cases of battery on a peace officer are treated more harshly in most states. Generally, they attract severe penalties. In California, laws governing battery on a peace officer are under Penal Code 243(b) and Penal Code 243(c). Depending on the nature or severity of the assault or battery, it could be a misdemeanor or a felony. In essence, PC 243 makes it a crime to commit battery on a peace officer. Charges of battery on a peace officer may arise from various situations, including when a defendant is revisiting arrest or is intoxicated. The charges may also arise from self-defense situations where the defendant deems an officer to have used excessive force in performing his/her duties.
The nature of the work of peace enforcers, including preserving law and order, which means that they are bound to encounter violent and non-violent resistance. These challenges may impede peace officers in the performance of their duties. To protect peace officers and ensure they are accorded the respect due to them, the law has criminalized battery on a peace officer. Therefore, it is critical to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer if and when assisting you in your battery on a peace officer case. With our experience in defending such cases, we at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are committed to exploring every available legal strategy for your defense.
Assault or Battery
Despite being related, in California, assault and battery are treated as separate crimes and are prosecuted differently. It is true for simple assault and battery as well as for battery on a peace officer. Similar to many other states, California has singled out battery against peace officers as a grave crime. According to the California Penal Code, assault is any unlawful attempt to injure someone violently. Battery occurs when the assault results in actual bodily injury on the person of another. However, for you to be found guilty of battery on a peace officer, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to commit the crime. Other elements that the prosecution must prove to qualify a battery crime include:
- That you intentionally and unlawfully touched a peace officer in a way likely to cause bodily harm
- That the victim was a peace officer who was engaged in the performance of their duties
- That you were aware or should have been reasonably aware that he/she was a peace officer performing their duties
- That as a result of your violent actions, the peace officer suffered physical harm that required medical treatment
Any reckless conduct that physically injures a peace officer is also considered by law as a battery. Essentially, the defendant is deemed to have conducted him/herself in a way and in circumstances where any reasonable person would have known that their actions are likely to injure a peace officer.
Who is a Peace Officer?
Under California law, a peace officer is any public official who is appointed to preserve law and order. Peace officers may include police officers, firefighters, lifeguards, search and rescue officers, traffic police, custodial officers, animal control officers, and paramedics or ER doctors and nurses. While most battery charges are on police officers, under law, battery on any of these officials is battery on a peace officer.
The fact that you are likely to encounter peace officers in chaotic situations means that you are supposed to guard against your emotions or actions getting out of hand. It includes avoiding any actions or speech that the officer might take personally or view as a threat to their authority. Considering that the law requires peace officers to be accorded a certain level of respect to facilitate the performance of their duties means that a battery on a peace officer is taken more seriously than a battery on other individuals.
Examples of a Battery on a Peace Officer
The broad and varied definition of whom a peace officer means that battery charges on such officials are also varied. Here are examples of different situations that could see you charged for battery on a peace officer:
- To resist arrest at a traffic stop, you injure a police officer by kicking or pushing him/her to the ground
- During a routine custodial visit or meeting, you accuse the custodial officer of favoring your estranged partner and intentionally punches or kicks him/her
- During a medical emergency at home or in the scene of a serious road accident, you unlawfully injure a paramedic whom you accuse of being slow or incompetent in their emergency response
Penalties for Battery on a Peace Officer
The more serious the injuries sustained by a peace officer, the more serious a battery is, and the more severely the defendant is penalized. Depending on the nature of the battery, it is either a misdemeanor or a felony. In California, while an assault on a peace officer can be a misdemeanor or a felony, most typical battery charges are misdemeanors. Typical battery charges include physical altercations with police officers at traffic stops and in other situations that may lead to an arrest. According to the law, if convicted of such a misdemeanor, your criminal penalty may include:
- A maximum of one year in county jail and or
- Up to two thousand dollars ($2,000) in criminal fines
However, if there are any aggravating factors, including an injury that requires medical treatment, the law may consider battery crime as a felony. Another factor that makes a battery on a peace officer to be considered by law as a felony is the use or display of a firearm during the battery crime. In this case, the penalties for battery may include:
- Sixteen (16) months, two years or three years in county jail and or
- Up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in criminal fine
What the Prosecution Needs to Prove
As already discussed, there are some elements that the prosecution needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to successfully prosecute a battery on a peace officer case.
The prosecution needs to prove that there was physical contact or that the defendant touched the peace officer in a manner likely to cause bodily harm. While any form of physical contact is sufficient grounds for prosecution in a simple battery, in a battery on a peace officer case, the physical contact must be harmful or offensive. Physical contact can also be indirect, including when an object thrown by the defendant hits the victim. For example, an intoxicated person may throw their shoes at a police officer in a traffic stop to avoid arrest. In this case, there is an element of physical contact.
However, the prosecution has to prove that the required conditions and the element of physical contact are satisfied. Where physical contact is determined, it becomes irrelevant that your conduct was not meant to harm the peace officer. Unless the defendant used physical contact as part of self-defense, all that the prosecution needs to prove is that you intentionally offensively touched the victim.
Peace Officer on Duty
The prosecution has to prove that the victim was a peace officer and that he/she was engaged in the performance of their duties when the alleged battery act happened. A peace officer does not necessarily need to have been on duty as long as they were engaged in a job-related duty. For example, an off-duty police officer who witnesses a robbery in a local store and calls for backup is performing his/her duty. If one of the robbers, while resisting arrest, physically injures the off-duty officer, he/she can is guilty of battering a peace officer.
Concerning this legal element, an off duty police officer can still make an arrest or conduct investigation. You cannot resist being arrested by an officer on the basis that they are off-duty. Therefore, as long as the officer had informed you that he/she is a police officer, you can be convicted of battery against such an officer. It is irrelevant whether or not they were on duty. However, the prosecution needs to prove that the officer was performing his/her official duties.
Know or has Reasons to Know
The prosecution must prove that the defendant knew or had reasons to know that the victim was a peace officer who was performing their duties as an officer. In this case, the prosecution needs to prove that there were reasonable circumstances to make the defendant aware that they were dealing with a peace officer. If the victim was in uniform, he was driving a marked car or verbally identified himself or herself. Any reasonable person should have known that the victim was a peace officer. In addition to other circumstances, the standard identifiers are enough for the prosecution to prove their case.
For example, attacking a paramedic who is not in uniform but who arrived in an accident scene using an ambulance qualifies as a battery on a peace officer. The ambulance as a marked vehicle is reason enough to know that the paramedic is a peace officer. Similarly, any reasonable person should be able to identify an off-duty police officer who shows his badge in a crime scene.
Injury and Serious Bodily Injury
The prosecution must prove that the defendant's violent actions injured the victim and that he/she required medical treatment for the injuries. Essentially, the prosecution has to prove the nature, extent, and seriousness of the victim’s injuries. In a battery on a peace officer case, the magnitude of the bodily injury inflicted on the victim greatly influences the case outcome. For example, while inflicting bruises on a police officer by kicking him/her qualifies as a battery on a peace officer, inflicting gunshot wounds on him/her is a more severe and attracts a stiff penalty.
The penalties in a battery on a peace officer case increase depending on the severity of the injury caused. According to California law, grave bodily injuries include but are not limited to fractured bones, concussions, serious disfigurements, and organ failures. While it is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove that the actions of the defendant caused serious bodily injury, it is the jury that decides what constitutes a serious injury and what does not. While it seems easy for the prosecution to prove the above elements, a skilled attorney can expertly use some common defenses to challenge the prosecution on these legal elements.
Common Defenses for Battery on a Peace Officer Charges
Under the law, if the prosecution fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the required legal elements, including the presence of physical contact on a peace officer who was performing their duties, you cannot be convicted of battery on a peace officer. Some legal defenses can minimize your penalties or guarantee your acquittal in a battery on a peace officer case. However, to prove the prosecution wrong and convince the jury of your innocence, you require an experienced attorney as part of your defense.
Depending on the facts of your case, there are many defense strategies that your attorney can use to defend you in court. Some of the common legal defenses that experienced attorneys use in a battery on a peace officer case include the argument that you did not know and could not have reasonably known that the victim was a peace officer. The defense attorney can also argue that your application of force was involuntary or accidental. That you were acting in self-defense or defense of someone else is another possible legal defense. As a defense, the attorney can also argue that there was no physical contact or that the peace officer was not performing their official duties.
Lack of Knowledge
This legal defense requires your attorney to prove that you did not know and could not have reasonably known that the victim was a peace officer. In this case, the officer did not identify him/herself, and there was nothing else that any reasonable person would have used to tell that the victim was a peace officer. The attorney has to prove that the peace officer was not in recognizable clothing or uniform, was not in a marked or an official vehicle, such as a police car or an ambulance, and did not have any common identification material or documents on them. However, a successful defense along this line can lead to the charges reduced to simple assault or simple battery. In this case, the victim is just another individual. If found guilty, your penalty is less severe compared to the penalties of battering a peace officer.
For example, Mark is suspected of shoplifting by the owner of the local grocery store. The owner alerts John, who is also in the grocery store at the time, but whom the owner knows to be a police officer. John is off-duty and does not have his identification badge on him. Nevertheless, he decides to arrest Mark. Mark resists the arrest and, in the ensuing commotion, injures John. In this case, Mark's defense attorney can successfully argue that the defendant did not know and could not have reasonably known that John was a police officer.
Your Conduct was Involuntary
In this case, your conduct was not willful but was entirely accidental. You can also argue that the victim misunderstood your conduct. However, this line of defense is not straightforward, and your attorney requires to understand all the facts of your case for a successful defense. Generally, this defense proposes that no battery occurred since the battery is only possible when you intentionally and unlawfully offensively touch another person. The no-battery argument is particularly common and successful, where the police officer accuses a defendant of battering him/her during an arrest. For example, in the process of being forcefully put in a police vehicle after an arrest, an accused person may accidentally injure a police officer as he/she tries to shield their body from the physical force of the officer. Such a person can argue that he/she did not intend to injure the police officer and that the officer may have misunderstood or misrepresented his/her conduct. If successful, the defense can result in the battery charges being dropped hence an acquittal.
No Physical Contact
If you can be able to prove that you did not touch the peace officer, then there are no battery charges. While this line of defense is closely related to the involuntary conduct defense, it hints at wrongful prosecution or mistaken identity. Police officers may mistakenly identify some people as having committed a crime even when they were not at the crime scene. An officer might maliciously and wrongfully accuse others of battering them. Peace officers are human beings who are prone to abusing their powers to settle personal scores. Therefore, it is not uncommon for a peace officer to wrongfully accuse someone of having injured them. In addition to proving that it is a wrongful accusation, the defense attorney must prove there was no physical contact between the defendant and the alleged victim. A successful defense leads to an acquittal.
The Peace Officer was not Performing His/her Duties
You can argue that a peace officer was involved in some other activities contrary to his/her duties when the alleged battery occurred. Some of the activities that an officer can be engaged in but are not his job duties include unlawful arrest or detention, police brutality, illegal search or seizure, racial profiling. The unlawful actions are not considered to be part of peace officer duties. Hence, a battery on such an officer is a simple battery. In some severe cases, the alleged battery may not be punishable by law. However, your attorney needs to prove and convince the jury that the peace officer's actions were not only unlawful, but the officer was not in any way engaged in the performance of his/her duties.
You Acted in Self-defense or Defense of Others
According to California law, you can use force to defend yourself or someone else in specific situations. However, the legal defense of self-defense or defense of others is only applicable in battery on a peace officer charges upon meeting certain conditions. First, you had every reason to believe that you or someone else was in imminent danger of being physically injured or unlawfully touched by the peace officer. Second, you had every reason to believe that using force against the peace officer was the only way to defend yourself or someone else against that danger. Third, you used only the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to avert the danger. Your actions are only justifiable under the law if you meet all three conditions or criteria. In essence, your defense attorney must emphasize that you believed that you or someone else was in danger. While this line of defense requires an expert argument, a successful defense can lead to an acquittal.
Contact a Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Due to the nature of their work as law enforcers and the lawful authority that comes with this mandate, peace officers are accorded a certain level of respect when performing their duties. It is for this reason that battery on a peace officer is taken so seriously and severely penalized by California law. Generally, battery on a peace officer is a serious crime that can lead you to years behind bars. However, you do not need to be convicted of a crime just because you have hit a peace officer. You still have the right to defend yourself. Considering the complexity and seriousness of your case, you require an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are to stand any chance of acquittal or having a minimized penalty. Our criminal defense attorneys at the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm have considerable experience conducting thorough investigations and successfully defending people accused of battering peace officers. To learn more about our services, call us at 714-740-7848.