Battery Against a Police Officer
Hitting or touching someone in an unwanted, offensive manner -- even threatening or attempting to do so -- is referred to as assault and/or battery and can lead to criminal charges. Some state laws define these terms differently, but assault usually refers to threats of physical force that cause fear in the victim, and battery refers to the offensive physical contact itself. Those convicted of the crime may face fines or even jail time, depending on the severity of the offense. But if you commit assault or battery against a police officer, you're much more likely to serve time behind bars.
Many states define battery (or assault) against a police officer as its own standalone offense. But states lacking such statutes typically sentence convicted offenders to much harsher sentences than if the same offense was committed against a civilian. The following article explains the offense of battery against a police officer, which is considered a crime against justice since it interferes with law enforcement.
Battery Against a Police Officer: Elements of the Crime
As with other crimes, the prosecution must prove certain elements in order to get a conviction for battery against an officer. These elements include the following (state laws may organize and word these elements differently):
- The accused willfully and unlawfully touched a peace officer in a way that was harmful or offensive;
- The victim was a peace officer performing their official duties when the accused acted; and
- The accused knew or reasonably should have known the victim was an on-duty peace officer.
Some jurisdictions require that the officer suffer actual injuries in order to get a conviction for battery against a police officer. But other statutes only require proof of a threat or attempt of battery, or classify varying degrees of the offense. For example, California law imposes more serious charges -- with a possible prison sentence of up to three years -- when "an injury is inflicted" upon the victim. Generally, an injury as minor as a scrape or bruise is sufficient. But the infliction of "serious bodily injury" -- defined by California law to include things like broken bones, loss of consciousness, and serious disfigurement -- will most certainly result in a longer prison sentence upon conviction.
Peace Officers and "Official Duties"
Statutes that prohibit acts of battery committed against police officers typically refer to "peace officers" in general. Most states define peace officers to include search and rescue personnel, park rangers, prison guards, university campus police, and others whose job it is to maintain the public peace. State laws also may include service processors, ER doctors and nurses, firefighters, and even lifeguards in that category.
Peace officers perform their "official duties" by carrying out a job duty, regardless of whether they are on the clock. For instance, an off-duty officer out with some friends who witnesses a crime in progress and intervenes by showing her badge and calling for back up is performing her official duties. It's also important to understand that an officer making an illegal arrest is still performing his "official duties" with respect to the law. For example, punching a police officer for illegally harassing someone is still punishable as a crime under these laws.
Sentencing and Punishment
Charges and sentences for this crime vary quite a bit from one state to the next, but often include incarceration (and probation), in addition to steep fines and restitution to the victim. States without a standalone statute for battery against an officer typically provide for enhanced charges when a peace officer is the victim of assault or battery. For example, a second-degree misdemeanor charge for assault may be upgraded to a first-degree misdemeanor.
Florida law imposes a minimum five-year prison term (and up to 30 years, plus 30 years probation and a $10,000 fine) for anyone convicted of aggravated battery (causing great bodily harm) of a law enforcement officer, classified as a first-degree felony. General battery (not causing great bodily harm) against an officer is charged as a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine. The lightest sentence under this statute is six months to one year in county jail for assault against a peace officer, charged as a first-degree misdemeanor.
Be sure to check the laws of your jurisdiction or speak with an attorney if you are unsure.
Charged with Battery Against a Police Officer? Get Legal Help
Enforcing the laws and keeping the peace requires a certain level of respect for the police and others considered peace officers, which is why battery against a police officer is taken so seriously. If you have been charged with this crime, make sure you speak with a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.